Despite warnings at the federal level regarding the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak in the United States, both U.S. President Donald Trump and one of his chief economic advisors have tried to push disinformation in downplaying the threat.
During a February 25, 2020 interview on CNBC, National Economic Council chair Larry Kudlow claimed that the United States had contained the virus. “It’s pretty close to airtight,” he added.
Kudlow’s remarks came shortly after the president said during a state visit to India that the virus was “very well under control.” But despite their claims, health officials told both the public and lawmakers that they should be ready for the virus — which has reportedly infected 80,000 people and killed at least 2,600 of them across 37 countries — to reach the country.
To date, 57 COVID-19 cases have been reported involving American patients. All but 17 of them are connected to an American Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined upon docking in Japan. One of those patients reportedly received an experimental drug treatment against the virus.
But the fears surrounding the spread of the virus also come after the Trump administration waged significant cuts against the country’s ability to respond in such cases, like the elimination of the $30 million Complex Crises Fund, which gave the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) the ability to “catalyze peace and mitigate conflict in advance or in the face of unforeseen crises or violence.” The administration also stripped funding from several organizations — including the Centers for Disease Control and department of Health and Human Services as well as the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security — that was allocated toward fighting diseases on a global scale.
In a conference call with news organizations, Nancy Messonnier — head of the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases — said that hospitals may need to delay elective surgeries on account of the virus, and that communities could be forced to delay or cancel large-scale gatherings.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad,” said Messonnier. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen.”
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar told a Senate panel that a White House emergency request for $2.5 billion in funding to combat the virus would not be enough.
“We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus,” he said. “And we need to be realistic about that.”
We contacted both the CDC and the World Health Organization seeking comment on Kudlow’s remarks but have not yet received a response.