US to spend up to $66M in efforts to counter coronavirus: health officials

The federal government expects to spend up to $66 million in its initial response to the coronavirus that has sickened 37,000 worldwide, including 12 people in the U.S., according to a notice sent by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to Congress on Sunday.

The Trump administration declared a public health emergency last month over the virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, but has since spread to other countries.

HHS expects its initial response will cost up to $66 million — more than half of the funds in the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund — a special fund created by Congress to help the agency immediately respond to outbreaks.


Federal law requires that HHS send Congress a spending plan within 15 days of using the fund. The $66 million figure does not include any other money HHS or other agencies has spent responding to the coronavirus.

In the plan, HHS estimates that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will spend $30 million evacuating more than 800 American citizens from Wuhan, and screening, isolating and quarantining those individuals in the U.S.

Five chartered jets have already landed in the U.S. and the government does not currently have any plans for future trips, the State Department said Saturday.

The CDC also expects to spend $36 million deploying staff to states where coronavirus cases have been confirmed and Americans are being quarantined; supporting surge staffing at 20 ports of entry where travelers are being screened, and buying protective and laboratory equipment and supplies.

That leaves at least $39 million in the fund for future needs, the plan states. The plan also notes that it does not yet have cost estimates for the quarantine of sick individuals who arrive at ports of entry.

HHS also told Congress last week that it might transfer up to $136 million from other funds to respond to the coronavirus.


Responding to and preparing for a public health emergency is costly and labor-intensive.

At the CDC alone, 800 people are working on the coronavirus response, including 200 people who have been dispatched to airports, quarantine sites and states to assist with investigations of confirmed cases.

Lawmakers and public health experts have expressed frustration that the administration has not yet asked Congress to approve emergency funding to respond and prepare for the coronavirus.

But HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Friday it's "premature" to talk about requesting additional funds from Congress.

“It’s premature to be talking about any additional needs for money at this point. There are still so many unknowns about the situation,” Azar told reporters, noting that two of the 12 patients in the U.S. have already completed treatment.

“We won’t let resources be any kind of barrier to response activities here, but let’s not put the cart before the horse,” he said.