Trump faces growing challenge to contain coronavirus

President Trump faces a growing challenge from the coronavirus as it spreads to more countries around the world.

The World Health Organization on Monday called the “sudden increase in cases” in Italy, Iran and South Korea “deeply concerning.” Some experts said that as outbreaks pop up on different continents, the virus is on the verge of becoming a global pandemic.

Financial markets worldwide tumbled Monday amid fears over the economic effect of the coronavirus, a worrying sign for Trump as he seeks reelection.

The president has sought to downplay the virus’s effects on the U.S. But given his history of questioning the actions of public health officials during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it’s possible his response could soon change in tone.

“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” Trump tweeted Monday. “We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

There is already one sign that the administration is stepping up its response: It is submitting a request to Congress for emergency funding to fight the virus, something Democrats first called for weeks ago.

The Trump administration on Monday night requested $2.5 billion to fight the virus, including $1 billion for vaccine development and funding for supplies like masks. There had been debate within the administration on the funding request and officials earlier in the day pushed back on initial reports that they would only seek $1 billion, which critics had said was a fairly small figure given the magnitude of the public health challenge.

Democrats, though, quickly blasted the funding request, with House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) calling it “woefully insufficient.”

Democrats also ramped up their rhetoric on the administration’s response on Monday night, with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) saying the details of the funding request showed Trump’s “towering incompetence” in dealing with the virus.

Adriane Casalotti, an official at the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said that at least $3.1 billion in new funding is needed, not including funds for vaccine development, and that more could be needed if the outbreak worsens.

Trump in 2014 repeatedly tweeted about shutting down flights from Ebola-affected regions of Africa, and even alleged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was refusing to admit that the virus was spreading faster than public health experts had said.

“Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting,” Trump tweeted at the time. “Spreading all over Africa-and fast. Stop flights.”

Trump has not tweeted or said anything similar this time around.

But there are some signs that fears are starting to increase in the United States over the coronavirus. After GOP lawmakers from Alabama raised concerns with the administration about a plan to quarantine some Americans with the virus returning from overseas in the state, Trump personally called Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and told him he was scrapping the plan.

Democrats are also starting to ramp up their messaging. Schumer tweeted Monday that Trump’s recent budget proposal calls for a 16 percent cut to CDC funding even though “the Coronavirus crisis continues to spread across the globe!”

Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University, said he is “pleased that for the most part the White House is staying out of it and they’re letting CDC run the show.”

But he noted two significant exceptions: the decision to fly home sick passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship on the same plane as healthy people, albeit separated by a plastic barrier, and a ban on foreign nationals from entering the United States if they have been to China in the past 14 days.

Gostin said the ban on foreign nationals from China “has no science basis” and that a better approach would be to continue screening people at airports for signs of illness.

As the virus spreads to more countries, the administration could be faced with deciding whether to impose more travel restrictions.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said he had no announcements to make when asked by reporters on Monday whether flights from Italy, South Korea or other countries with outbreaks would be treated like flights from China.

The virus is not known to be spreading among the general public in the United States, but U.S. officials have acknowledged that it very well could.

“It’s very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top official at the CDC, said Friday.

Jennifer Nuzzo, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said there is a possibility the virus is already circulating in the United States without being detected. She called for more efforts to find out if that’s the case, noting that some patients can exhibit mild symptoms that aren’t immediately obvious.

The reported death rate from the virus is around 2 percent, a figure that is much higher than the death rate for the flu. But Nuzzo said it remains to be seen whether that figure holds up as the world learns more about the virus, and that the rate appears to be lower outside of China, for unclear reasons.

Experts said older people and those with underlying health conditions are likely more at risk of suffering damaging effects from the virus.

Senators will receive a closed-door briefing about the virus Tuesday from administration officials, a Senate aide said. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar will also be questioned about the administration’s response as he heads to Capitol Hill this week for a series of budget hearings.

Democrats have pointed out that a health security position on the National Security Council (NSC) has gone unfilled since 2018.

“We didn’t just create a position but an office at the NSC to combat pandemics precisely like covid19 [coronavirus],” tweeted Susan Rice, who was former President Obama’s national security adviser. “But hey, why plan ahead or bother with preparedness??”

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Coronovirus Donald Trump Nita Lowey Richard Shelby
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