CSC: Coronavirus outbreak in US is not 'if' but 'when'

Tim Darnell The Atlanta
journal-Constitution (TNS)

Coronavirus outbreak in US: Not 'if' but 'when,' CDC says

By Tim Darnell

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA _ A coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is not a question of "if" but "when," officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

"The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving and spreading," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Cases are appearing worldwide without a known source of exposure, and successful containment at U.S. borders is becoming problematic.

"There is no vaccine or drug available to treat it," Messonnier said during a media conference call.

Before the call, Messonnier recounted a conversation with her children Tuesday morning, in which she said the family should prepare for a possibly significant disruption to their lives as a result of the outbreak.

On Monday night, President Donald Trump requested $2.5 billion that he said will prepare the nation in case of a U.S. outbreak, as well as help other nations unprepared to handle the threat.

Earlier Monday, the CDC confirmed 53 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. The new numbers include 36 recent evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The number of stateside cases remains at 14.

The White House budget office said the funding would be used for vaccine development, treatment and protective equipment, but the amount of the request was quickly slammed by Democrats as insufficient. The budget request came as coronavirus fears were credited with Monday's 1,000-plus-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average.

The rapid spread of the virus and threat to the global economy has rocked financial markets, but Trump said he believes China is getting the epidemic under control.

The funding request was released Monday evening and came as key government accounts were running low. The Department of Health and Human Services had already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and was seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.

On Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the U.S.' stockpile of medical ventilators and masks is not enough for a COVID-19 outbreak.

South Korea is now on its highest alert for infectious diseases after cases there spiked. Italy reported a fifth person had died amid a sharp rise in cases, and a dozen towns in the northern part of that country are under quarantine.

The nation now has the biggest outbreak in Europe, prompting officials to cancel Venice's famed Carnival, along with soccer matches and other public gatherings. In Iran, the virus reportedly has killed 50 in the city of Qom. Iraq confirmed the first case there Monday.