The Trump administration is being urged to declare a formal public health emergency as a fifth case of the deadly coronavirus in the United States was confirmed and the death toll from the disease rose to 56 in China, where officials cautioned that the spread of the never-before-seen illness appears to be getting stronger.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is asking Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to declare a public health emergency to free up money for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to battle the virus before it becomes an American pandemic.
“If we have learned anything from the risks the new viruses pose to public health, it is a ‘stitch in time saves nine,’ and the more we can do to be proactive, the better off the public will be,” Schumer said during a news conference on Sunday.
“The CDC has been doing a tremendous job so far at being proactive and working around the clock to protect public health, but if we are going to make sure they can sustain this pace and remain at-the-ready should the outbreak get worse, they will need immediate access to critical federal funds that at the present time they remain unable to access,” Schumer said. “That is why, today, I am urging HHS to follow the CDC’s proactive lead: declare a formal public health emergency for the coronavirus.”
Schumer’s request comes as the latest U.S. cases of the virus were announced over the weekend. A patient in Arizona and two in Southern California tested positive for the virus, which has caused worldwide alarm, officials said.
Health officials in Orange County, California, and Los Angeles County announced they are each treating one patient for the virus. The patient in Arizona is a student at Arizona State University but does not live in university housing, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
The Orange County, Los Angeles County and Arizona patients, who were not identified, had all recently returned to the United States after traveling in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the illness, authorities said. All three patients were in isolation at undisclosed hospitals, officials said.
The local officials are working with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health to reach people who have come in close contact with the patients.
“There is no evidence that person-to-person transmission has occurred in Orange County. The current risk of local transmission remains low,” Orange County officials said in a statement.
The California cases follow one near Seattle, where a man in his 30s was hospitalized after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, officials said. Tests also confirmed that a woman in her 60s in Chicago had contracted the disease, officials said. Both patients had recently traveled to China.
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SOURCE: ABC News, Bill Hutchinson