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Trump Urges Calm Amid Virus Reports    02/27 06:07

   President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the urgent $2.5 billion plan for 
coronavirus he sent to lawmakers will prepare the nation in case of an outbreak 
in the U.S. and help other nations unprepared to handle the threat.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump declared that a widespread U.S. 
outbreak of the new respiratory virus sweeping the globe isn't inevitable even 
as top health authorities at his side warned Americans that more infections are 
coming.

   Shortly after Trump spoke Wednesday, the government announced a worrisome 
development: Another person in the U.S. is infected --- someone in California 
who doesn't appear to have the usual risk factors of having traveled abroad or 
being exposed to another patient. 

   At a White House news conference, Trump sought to minimize fears as he 
insisted the U.S. is "very, very ready" for whatever the COVID-19 outbreak 
brings. Under fire about the government's response, he put Vice President Mike 
Pence in charge of coordinating the efforts.

   "This will end," Trump said of the outbreak. "You don't want to see panic 
because there's no reason to be panicked."

   But standing next to him, the very health officials Trump praised for 
fighting the new coronavirus stressed that schools, businesses and individuals 
need to get ready.

   "We do expect more cases," said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease 
Control and Prevention. 

   If the CDC confirms that the latest U.S. case doesn't involve travel or 
contact with an infected person, it would be a first in this country and a sign 
that efforts to contain the virus' spread haven't been enough.

   "It's possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19," 
the CDC said in a statement.

   More than 81,000 cases of COVID-19, an illness characterized by fever and 
coughing and in serious cases shortness of breath or pneumonia, have occurred 
since the new virus emerged in China. 

   The newest case from California brings the total number infected in the U.S. 
to 60, most of them evacuated from outbreak zones.

   Trump credited border restrictions that have blocked people coming into the 
U.S. from China for keeping infections low. But now countries around the world 
--- from South Korea and Japan to Italy and Iran --- are experiencing growing 
numbers of cases. Asked if it was time to either lift the China restrictions or 
take steps for travelers from elsewhere, he said: "At a right time we may do 
that. Right now it's not the time."

   Trump spent close to an hour discussing the virus threat, after a week of 
sharp stock market losses over the health crisis and concern within the 
administration that a growing outbreak could affect his reelection. He blamed 
the Democrats for the stock market slide, saying, "I think the financial 
markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on 
that stage making fools out of themselves." And he shifted to defend his 
overall record and predict a win in November.

   A key question is whether the Trump administration is spending enough money 
to get the country prepared --- especially as the CDC has struggled to expand 
the number of states that can test people for the virus. Other key concerns are 
stockpiling masks and other protective equipment for health workers, and 
developing a vaccine or treatment.

   Health officials have exhausted an initial $105 million in emergency funding 
and have been looking elsewhere for dollars. Earlier this week, Trump requested 
$2.5 billion from Congress to fight the virus. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck 
Schumer of New York countered with a proposal for $8.5 billion.

   Trump told reporters he was open to spending "whatever's appropriate."

   Trump compared the new virus repeatedly to the flu, which kills tens of 
thousands of people each year. The new coronavirus has killed more than 2,700 
people --- most in China and none in the U.S. --- but scientists still don't 
understand who's most at risk or what the death rate is.

   Without a vaccine, the CDC's Schuchat advised people to follow "tried and 
true, not very exciting" but important precautions: Wash your hands, cover your 
coughs and stay home when you're sick.

   A day earlier, another CDC official, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, was even more 
blunt, telling Americans to get ready for some of the same steps as occurred 
during the 2009 flu pandemic, such as school closings. "It's not so much a 
question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly 
when this will happen --- and how many people in this country will have severe 
illness," she said.

   The National Institutes of Health's top infectious disease chief cautioned a 
vaccine won't be ready for widespread use for a year or more. But Dr. Anthony 
Fauci said even if the virus wanes soon, it's "quite conceivable" that it might 
"come back and recycle next year." By then, he said, "we hope to have a 
vaccine."

   Democrats were quick to condemn Trump's response to the outbreak. House 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it "opaque and chaotic."

   "Instead of listening to public health and medical experts, the president 
has been downplaying the potential impact of the virus for over a month," said 
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland 
Security Committee. 

   Thompson added that putting Pence, "someone with no public health expertise, 
in charge of the response will not instill confidence with the American people 
and raises questions about the administration's ability to coordinate an 
effective response to a complex public health threat."

   During his time as Indiana's governor, Pence faced criticism for his 
response to a public health crisis in the southern part of the state.

   In 2015, Scott County saw the number of people infected with HIV skyrocket, 
with nearly 200 people testing positive for the virus in a span of months. 
Indiana law at the time prohibited needle exchanges, exacerbating the outbreak, 
which primarily infected intravenous users of the painkiller Opana.

   Pence had long opposed needle exchanges but was eventually persuaded to 
issue an executive order allowing one in Scott County. Despite his own 
misgivings --- Pence said he didn't support the exchanges as an "anti-drug 
policy" --- he signed a law allowing the state government to approve them on a 
case-by-case basis.


(KR)

 
 
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