1/27/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Jack Reed is urging U.S. health officials to be transparent and forthcoming with the American people about the risks and scope of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus.  Senator Reed says the U.S. must avoid the mistakes made by China’s government, which was slow to disclose information about the fast-moving health crisis.  And today, he joined with several Senate colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to take a scientific, coordinated, data-driven response to stopping the outbreak and developing a vaccine.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are able to be transmitted from animals to humans.

Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 16 countries, including the U.S., have now reported cases of novel coronavirus.  The CDC says it has identified five confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the United States so far and more than 100 cases are under investigation in 26 states throughout the country.  All five confirmed cases in the U.S. are individuals who recently traveled to Wuhan, China.  Officials from the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases say the current health risk to Americans from novel coronavirus remains low.

However, the outbreak of respiratory virus, if not contained, may spread aggressively and additional cases in the U.S. and around the globe are likely.  Hospitals across the country are taking steps to prepare to care for patients with symptoms who have recently been traveling to countries at a heightened risk of the virus.  Today, the U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for China to “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” due to novel coronavirus.  This flows last week’s State Department warning against traveling to the Hubei Province – where Wuhan is located – and raised the alert for that specific region to “Level 4: Do Not Travel.”

Senator Reed is urging the Trump Administration to be proactive, transparent, and coordinate with partners to protecting public health and help stop the spread of novel coronavirus. 

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and I am monitoring it closely.  We don’t want anyone panicking.  We want them to have the facts and we want the federal government to take necessary steps to protect public health.  Proactive, transparent, and coordinated action by the Trump Administration is key to stopping the spread of this virus and treating it appropriately.  While the risk level today may be low, we must be vigilant.  This is another example of why we must invest in our public health infrastructure,” said Senator Reed.

Text of the letter follows (PDF attached):

January 27, 2020

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II                     
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services      
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Azar,

We write to express concern about the rapidly evolving 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), to urge your continued robust and scientifically driven response to the situation, and to assess whether any additional resources or action by Congress are needed at this time. A quick and effective response to the 2019-nCoV requires public health officials around the world work together to share reliable information about the disease and insight into steps taken to prevent, diagnose, and treat it appropriately.

Chinese health officials confirmed the first case of 2019-nCoV in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019.[1] Since then, the case count has exploded in China, with nearly 3,000 confirmed cases as of the writing of this letter. More than 80 people have died.[2] Cases have now been confirmed on four continents.[3] On January 21, the first U.S. case was confirmed in Washington state, where state and local public health officials quickly responded with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[4] A second U.S. case was confirmed in Chicago on January 24.[5] Subsequently, CDC confirmed two cases in California and one in Arizona, bringing the total U.S. case count to five.[6] Airport screening procedures have been put in place to screen all passengers arriving in the U.S. from Wuhan. In Wuhan, and across China, officials have enacted travel restrictions and canceled planned festivals to celebrate the Lunar New Year.[7]

Even with these steps, the case count in China is expected to continue to rise, along with additional cases in the U.S. and around the globe. The World Health Organization is monitoring the situation closely, but has determined it is too early to formally designate this as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.[8] A quick, robust, and comprehensive approach to this outbreak is critical, while also remaining aware that, according to CDC, “the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time.”[9]

Unfortunately, the 2019-nCoV outbreak follows troubling proposals from the Trump Administration to cut the budgets of core public health programs at home and abroad. Yet, outbreaks like this serve as a solemn reminder of the need for an unwavering commitment to global health security and the need for strong public health programs worldwide.

We recognize the situation is evolving quickly and appreciate the information you have already provided. We ask you keep us apprised of developments as they occur, including any information related to the following questions:

1) What can Congress do to fully support the U.S. Government response to this outbreak?

2) How many HHS officials are currently engaged in the 2019-nCoV response domestically and abroad and in what capacities?

3) What is HHS's best current judgment about the clinical severity of this disease? 

4) What is the current domestic diagnostic capacity? How many facilities across the country are able to diagnose 2019-nCoV?

5) What is currently known about the risk 2019-nCoV poses to health care workers? How is CDC communicating with U.S. health care facilities to ensure providers remain healthy and safe? What additional guidance is being supplied to health care providers?

6) How many passengers have been screened by the airport screening procedures that are in place at American airports? How many potential cases have been identified as a result of this screening? Are there any planned changes to airport screening procedures?

7) What progress has been made on the development of a 2019-nCoV vaccine?

Thank you for your attention to this urgent issue.