WASHINGTON—The 15th travel-related case of coronavirus in the United States was confirmed Tuesday afternoon by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a House committee meeting where some members said President Donald Trump isn’t asking for enough money to fight the disease.
At a House health subcommittee hearing, Azar said the origin of the case has not yet been confirmed but proper measures are being taken to make sure it is controlled. He said HHS is prepared for a bigger outbreak in the U.S.
“We are working closely with state, local and private sector partners to prepare for mitigating the virus’s potential spread in the United States as we expect to see more cases here,” Azar told the subcommittee.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Tuesday that it is not a matter of if, but when coronavirus will spread to America. Azar said he anticipates the virus to spread on community levels, a much less severe outbreak than what is happening in China.
Currently, there is not a vaccine or specified treatment for the virus and it will require immense amounts of research and testing to discover a treatment, health officials said.
Azar proposed a plan that works toward developing a vaccine as well as monitoring coronavirus in the same way the flu is monitored annually and public health changes at the state and local levels.
Azar said his department is asking for at least $2.5 billion in emergency funding. The funding requests for fiscal 2021 will be adjusted to properly address the COVID-19 outbreak, he said.
Some representatives were concerned that the initial $2.5 billion request may not be enough to minimize the impacts of the outbreak. Health officials have estimated higher amounts of funding are needed to address this outbreak and create a vaccine.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said a vaccine needs to be found as quickly as possible and as many resources as possible are needed to do this.
“We need the right numbers as it relates to fighting this terrible disease,” Upton said.
Upton questioned if there was money allocated in the emergency funding request to prepare for regional quarantining if it becomes necessary, as it has in other countries dealing with the outbreak. Containment is one of the best ways to control the virus, health officials say, but it is very costly.
Azar said that he does not expect the virus to reach that level of severity and his department’s requested amount is adequate. He said it will address what is needed to control the virus, including surveillance of its spread.
Half of the $2.5 billion request would be new funds and half would be moving funds from other programs. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., was concerned about what programs would be cut.
Millions are being reallocated from the National Institute of Health, and Dingell said she is worried about how this will affect other medical research.