Donald Trump makes Mike Pence his coronavirus czar and will spend ‘whatever it takes’
He also declared the U.S. would spend ‘whatever’ it takes to beat coronavirus Wednesday at a White House press conference as the infection’s scale grew around the world.
But he said the risk to Americans’ health remained ‘low,’ and that the number of people diagnosed with the virus was small.
Trump said Pence would report to him. The vice president said extra personnel would be brought in to the White House for ‘this whole of government response,’ to the mounting worldwide health crisis.
The president boasted that he had made ‘early decisions’ which had kept the level of coronavirus down in the U.S. – but said that he would make sure government health workers have the resources they need.
‘They can do whatever they want,’ Trump said at a White House press briefing surrounded by top officials including Alex Azar, his Health and Human Services Secretary.
The White House had asked for $2.5 billion in extra funding for the Centers for Disease Control, but had come under pressure to increase that spending by both Republicans and Democrats.
The press conference was an apparent attempt to claim fears over the virus, which has seen stock markets plunge and Democrats and Republicans both criticizing the official response.
Briefing: Donald Trump held an unprecedented White House press conference as the threat from coronavirus escalates
Speakers: Donald Trump was surrounded by (from left): Robert Redfield, director of the CDC; Alex Azar, the HHS secretary; Mike Pence, now the virus czar; Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC; and Tony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,
The briefing was held as American coronavirus cases rose to 60 with the addition of two more Diamond Princess cruise evacuees and another American who tested positive on Wednesday.
Officials have not yet revealed how the most recently diagnosed patient acquired the life-threatening infection..
The CDC confirmed the positive test results of an additional six cruise evacuees, including four that had already been announced by local health departments.
At least five of the new patients were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship last week. They were then transported to three different quarantine sites: military bases in California and Texas and the National Quarantine Unit in Nebraska.
Global cases have now surged past 81,000, with well over 2,700 deaths – though the vast majority of fatalities have still occurred in China, where the outbreak began.
On Tuesday CDC officials warned Americans to prepare for the infection to spread, despite Trump’s reassurances that the virus is ‘under control’ in the U.S., and the claim that the response was ‘great’ in a string of tweets which accused Democrats of trying to cause panic.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, dismissed Trump Wednesday, saying: ‘I don’t think the president knows what he’s talking about – once again.’
And Azar denied claims that he was about to be replaced by an epidemic czar in the project to oversee the US’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak – then saw Pence appointed in front of him at the White House.
Another two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed among American passengers of the Diamond Princess Cruise ship who were evacuated from Japan earlier this month (pictured)
A total of 60 Americans now have coronavirus, but 45 of those cases are in people held in quarantines after evacuation from Wuhan or the cruise, while only a small number were detected in the US after traveling to China. The source of one infection remains unclear
The CDC has reported 14 cases in the country and 45 cases among people evacuated from the cruise ship and the city of Wuhan in China.
The agency’s website does not yet reflect the 60th case, announced Wednesday by Secretary Azar.
So far, only two cases of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus have occurred in the US, but CDC officials believe it’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the virus will be active in US communities.
The CDC’s point person on the coronavirus outbreak, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases Dr Nancy Messonnier advised parents to talk to their kids’ schools about ‘teleschooling’ in the event the event of quarantines or class cancellations amid an outbreak.
‘I told my children that they are not at risk now, but we as a family need to prepare for significant disruption in our lives,’ Dr Messonnier told reporters in a Tuesday press briefing.
In a bizarre twist, she is the sister of Rod Rosenstein, the former attorney general who oversaw the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation and who was a repeated target for Trump’s ire.
The new cases for which details have been released are confined to the cruise ship evacuees.
The number of people diagnosed in the US – without being repatriated – has held steady at 14 for weeks.
Another two people who were among among the 800-some Americans repatriated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China, have also tested positive for coronavirus.
This week’s additional cases among evacuees may have come to little surprise to the CDC, which advised against letting 14 American Diamond Princess passengers whose coronavirus tests came back positive as they were about to board the evacuation flights to the US continue on the cargo planes.
State Department officials ultimately overrode the health officials on the ground in Japan, where the ship had been quarantined.
Of the 328 evacuated people, 13 ‘high risk’ passengers were taken on to Nebraska’s high-grade quarantine.
CDC officials previously said they expected to see additional cases among the cruise ship evacuees, and diagnoses have indeed rolled in.
Meanwhile, LAX airport and travelers are on high alert after a flight attendant on a Korean Air flight there from South Korea, where cases have surged to over 1,200 in a matter of days and one US soldier on Camp Carroll military base has been diagnosed with coronavirus.