U.S. health officials scrambled Friday to get coronavirus testing up and running in every state, as the Trump administration signaled it may also invoke a 70-year-old defense law to guarantee the availability of protective gear should the virus spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said two more Americans tested positive for the virus out of the group of quarantined passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and Santa Clara County in California reported another case, bringing the national total to 63.
Health officials confirmed the Santa Clara case as the second in the United States believed to have been transmitted to a person who didn’t travel internationally or come in close contact with anyone who had it.
The World Health Organization upgraded the risk level from the virus to “very high” as it continued to spread around the globe. Friday evening, the State Department issued an advisory telling Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Italy, which has seen nearly 900 cases. A travel advisory already is in place for China.
Two days after the White House abruptly shifted gears from President Donald Trump’s initial assurances of minimal U.S. fallout to an all-out mobilization under Vice President Mike Pence, the administration’s messaging still wasn’t completely seamless.
Trump administration political appointees and nonpartisan career government scientists both agree that the current risk to Americans is low, although that could quickly change. But some political officials are continuing to offer assurances that concerns will blow over soon, while the scientists are emphasizing preparations for circumstances as yet unknown.
“I acknowledge that this could change. I acknowledge the situation could deteriorate. I acknowledge the risks,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters Friday. “But, given what we know … looks to me like the market has gone too far.”
Financial markets continued to slide, with the Dow Jones average suffering its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.
Later in the day Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell signaled that the central bank would cut interest rates to support the economy if needed.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers of both parties are working on a spending bill to be unveiled early next week and expected to be two to three times more than the $2.5 billion the White House had requested for anti-virus efforts.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called attention to the breadth of options under consideration, telling reporters the administration may invoke the 1950 Defense Production Act to ensure production of needed supplies for anti-virus effort. For example, the government says it needs 300 million masks for health care workers, but only has 30 million stockpiled.
“We will use the Defense Production Act as necessary,” said Azar. “So that is the authority that we have and we intend to use to acquire anything we need to acquire.”