There are more than 100 confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the US, but a task force appointed to manage the crisis is monitoring the situation closely, Vice President Mike Pence said in his briefing on Wednesday.
The 100+ cases include those that are related to travel to China or via the cruise ship the Diamond Princess as well as domestic, person-to-person, community-acquired cases. However, Pence remained optimistic in his briefing when speaking about the risk to Americans.
“To be clear: If you are a healthy American, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low,” he said in his opening remarks. “But it is still a good idea to engage in commonsense practices that are always recommended this time of year.
“It’s a good idea to stay home when you’re sick,” Pence continued, running down a list of suggested preventative behaviors. “Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Cover your cough or sneeze with tissue; throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently. Wash your hands with either disinfectant or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.”
Pence also stressed the fact that there is no need for Americans to buy masks.
On Wednesday, Pence said, the White House Coronavirus Task Force met with executives from the airline industry, commercial labs, and nursing homes. Airline executives have been willing to work with the government to refine the process of screening and relaying passenger and flight manifest information to the government if a patient tests positive for COVID-19. And among nursing homes, executives in that space have been willing to employ new standards to keep residents safe, according to Pence, as that population seems to be the most vulnerable.
The task force also met with Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House of Representatives. The House additionally recently passed a federal funding bill nearly unanimously before it moves to the Senate. Republican Representatives Andy Biggs (Arizona) and Ken Buck (Colorado) were the 415-2 holdouts. The Senate is expected to pass the bill and President Donald Trump has said he would “spend whatever is appropriate” to halt the virus’ outbreak.
Pence said that roughly 1.5 million diagnostic testing kits will be available this week and he said the task force will build on that number. Commercial labs that already have infrastructure to support testing capabilities have “created a consortium to share information and to share resources and literally have told us that, as they go through what is called the ‘validation process’ on testing that, by next week, individual companies will be able to do, as they said to me, thousands of tests of coronavirus if they are needed and required, and many, many multiples more of that in the not-distant future,” Pence said.
Pence also confirmed that the coronavirus has been designated by the Department of Health and Human Services an essential health benefit, meaning it is covered by the private health insurance of every American including those covered by Medicare and Medicaid. He said the task force and Congress are monitoring the costs of testing carefully.
“It’s not just a whole-of-government approach; it’s a whole-of-America approach,” Pence remarked. “I can speak on behalf of President Trump and our entire task force when I say we are profoundly grateful for the spirit that’s being reflected by companies all across the United States of America, grateful for the leadership at the state level. And the American people should be confident that that spirit of partnership is going to continue to drive this at every level as we work our way through dealing with the coronavirus in the United States.”
For the most recent case counts in the COVID-19 outbreak, check out the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor
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