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Health Officials Expect U.S. Coronavirus Outbreak: ‘It’s More of a Question of When’

A medical worker in a protective suit takes a break at an isolated ward of the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei Province, China, February 16, 2020. (China Daily/Reuters)

U.S. officials admitted Tuesday that the United States is likely to suffer a coronavirus outbreak, one day after the Trump administration requested $2.5 billion to help slow the spread of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that it now expects a large increase in U.S. cases, and urged Americans to prepare for “the expectation that this might be bad.”

Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Center DC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that “it’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen.” She also warned that “the disruption of daily life might be severe.”

The Trump administration has delivered a mixed response on the virus, with U.S. health secretary Alex Azar admitting during a Senate hearing on Tuesday that “we cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus . . . and we need to be realistic about that.” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf added that “we only know that, again, we anticipate those numbers to grow in the U.S.,” but said he could not give an “exact number.”

Later in the day, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow struck a different tone on CNBC. “We have contained this — I won’t say airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight,” he said. Stocks plunged for the second consecutive day, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 900 points after Tuesday-morning gains.

President Trump told reporters in India early Tuesday that he thought “the whole situation will start working out.”

There are currently 14 domestic cases confirmed in the country, with an additional three cases among those evacuated from China aboard U.S.-chartered flights, and 40 aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Asia.

Health officials are also concerned about the lack of resources needed to diagnose and contain an outbreak, with the CDC still trying to roll out a testing kit for state and local health departments. As of Tuesday, a total of 426 people in the U.S. have been tested for the virus, with 12 states and localities now conducting their own tests.

“You’re the secretary of Homeland Security and you can’t tell me if we have enough respirators?” Senator John Kennedy (R., La.) asked Wolf during the Senate hearing, after Wolf did not give a straight answer.

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) announced on Tuesday that he is introducing a bill to reduce reliance on Chinese products, over concerns that coronavirus is threatening “the domestic supply of some 150 prescription drugs, including antibiotics, generics, and branded drugs.”

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