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Mixed messages, delays hamper U.S. virus response

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on February 28, 2020 - Duration: 03:32s

Mixed messages, delays hamper U.S. virus response

Barely more than a handful of U.S. public health departments across the country are able to test for the fast-spreading coronavirus, which began in China and has spread to at least 44 countries.

This report produced by Chris Dignam.

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Mixed messages, delays hamper U.S. virus response

Even as U.S. officials warn of an inevitable outbreak of coronavirus in the United States... (SOUND BITE) (English) CDC PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, SAYING ON FEBRUARY 25: "It's likely that this virus will cause a pandemic." ... and are alerting Americans to take precautions... (SOUND BITE) (English) CDC PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, SAYING ON FEBRUARY 25: "It's also a really good time for the American public to prepare..." ... some health agencies charged with protecting the public appear unprepared to deal with the threat.

Currently, just seven public health departments across the country are able to test for the novel virus, which began in China and has spread to at dozens of countries.

The federal government has less than 10% of the protective masks required to protect healthcare workers and the public.

And Washington still does not have adequate funding in place to support health departments' efforts, though more money is on the way.

(SOUND BITE) (English) U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, SAYING ON FEBRUARY 26: "There's a chance that it won't spread, too.

And there's a chance that it will." Conflicting messaging from the White House and top U.S. officials regarding the severity of the threat has only added to the uncertainty.

Here's the CDC's principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat, on Tuesday: (SOUND BITE) (English) CDC PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, SAYING ON FEBRUARY 25: "Now, it's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when..." And here's President Donald Trump the next day: (SOUND BITE) (English) U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, SAYING ON FEBRUARY 26: "There's a chance it could get fairly substantially worse.

But nothing's inevitable." Despite an explosion of cases in China over the past two months, the Trump administration only this week put in a request for $2.5 billion to aid in the response... (SOUND BITE) (English) U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI, SAYING: "... meager, anemic…" ... an amount Democrats and SOME Republicans have said is too small.

Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday: (SOUND BITE) (English) U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI, SAYING: "The Trump budget calls for slashing almost seven hundred million dollars from the Center for Disease Control.

And this was the budget which came out after we knew about the coronavirus threat." Critics of the federal response say the Trump administration squandered precious weeks by focusing too narrowly on keeping the coronavirus from crossing U.S. borders rather than marshalling resources to prepare American communities for a widespread domestic outbreak.

So far, the U.S. strategy has focused almost exclusively on testing infected travelers.

People with flu-like symptoms are only tested for the coronavirus if they have been to a country where the virus is spreading.

This has raised concerns that there are far more cases in the United States than are currently recorded.

(SOUND BITE) (English) CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM, SAYING: "We knew this was inevitable." Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday addressed the first U.S. case of coronavirus in patient with no apparent travel history, and said his state had an "inadequate" number of test kits.

(SOUND BITE) (English) CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM, SAYING: "We have just a few hundred testing kits in the state of California and that's surveillance testing as well as diagnostic testing that's simply inadequate to do justice to the kind of testing that is required to address this issue head on." Later on Thursday, the CDC's director told a congressional hearing that more test kits were being sent to California.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION DIRECTOR ROBERT REDFIELD, SAYING: "Clearly, what's been demonstrated by the recent case (of the first case in the U.S. that can't be linked to China) is that's no longer operational." He also told the House Panel that the CDC is now broadening the criteria for testing of the coronavirus.

This after the University of California Davis said in a statement that the patient with no known travel or exposure to other coronavirus patients was transferred to the hospital with severe pneumonia and the hospital requested testing.

But since the patient didn't fit the CDC's criteria, those tests were delayed by several days.

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