White House rolls out Zika crisis plan

White House rolls out Zika crisis plan
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The White House is amplifying its efforts to contain the chaos from a nearly inevitable outbreak of Zika virus in the U.S. in upcoming weeks.

Senior health officials outlined the national Zika response plan for the first time Thursday during a video briefing with officials from nine states deemed most vulnerable to an outbreak.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is arming the states with a step-by-step emergency plan to respond to the first locally transmitted cases of Zika. The virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, is expected to begin hitting Southern U.S. states later this month.

The document, which the CDC says is still a draft, includes “detailed guidance” about the protocol for federal and state officials when Zika spreads to the U.S. for the first time.

The document has not yet been made public, according to a CDC spokeswoman, though some details were included in a release from the Obama administration late Thursday.

The up-front coordination on Zika is a clear attempt by the administration to avoid the 2014 crisis that stemmed from the first U.S. case of the Ebola virus.

Ebola was an international disaster for more than a year when a U.S. nurse became infected by a patient living in Texas — a situation that exposed massive communication gaps between federal, state and local health officials. For months afterward, government officials on all levels took part in finger-pointing about the outbreak.

States like Florida have already made clear they are anxious about the impending spread of the disease. The National Governors Association recently declared that “the nation is on the threshold of a public health emergency."

Zika has already arrived in droves in the U.S. Many states are dealing with dozens, if not hundreds of Zika cases. U.S. states have reported 691 known cases of Zika, according to CDC data from June 8. Puerto Rico has more than 1,300 cases.

So far, the majority of the White House’s communication about Zika has been urging Congress to approve new funding to help speed up testing, vaccine development and mosquito-fighting efforts. Senate and House leadership began talks this week to create a joint funding package.   

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell did make a pitch for Congress to approve funding during the call but focused on what states needed to do to prepare themselves.

Burwell urged states to quickly step up their anti-mosquito efforts while also boosting public outreach, diagnostics and ensuring the safety of the blood supply.   

The call included six governors as well as officials from three additional states, all but two of them led by Republicans. The states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, Hawaii and California.