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Pence Announces White House Coordinator for Coronavirus Response

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gives a news conference next to President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Vice President Mike Pence has appointed the administration’s top AIDS official as head coordinator in tackling the coronavirus in the U.S., the White House said Thursday.

Ambassador Debbie Birx will serve as “White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator” and report to Pence as well as join the task force formed to combat the epidemic under Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Birx, a career public health official, is currently in charge of the U.S. effort to battle AIDS across the globe and is responsible for the $6 billion the U.S. has earmarked for HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention programs in 65 countries. She was nominated to that position by former President Barack Obama in 2014 and also serves as U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy.

“She has deep experience in coordinating across agencies,” the White House said in a statement. “She has worked from the research bench to the clinic, but understands the primary focus must always be to reach the individuals most in need.”

President Trump announced Wednesday that Pence will be in charge of the administration’s coronavirus response.

Earlier in the day, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday requested $8.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus, more than three times the $2.5 billion the White House has requested.

The coronavirus, a respiratory illness which originated in China, has killed nearly 3,000 people globally and infected nearly 81,000. The U.S. has identified 60 cases within the country, all but one of whom caught the infection from traveling abroad or having contact with someone who did. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of coronavirus with “unknown” origins in California.

“At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown,” read a statement from the CDC. “It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States.”

Symptoms of the virus, which has taken its largest toll on the elderly, have ranged from mild to severe.

The U.S. stock market plummeted this week along with markets worldwide on Monday morning as fears of the spreading coronavirus rattled investors.

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