President Donald Trump's dismissive remarks about the severity of the Covid-19 outbreak and the grave threats, it presents to the United States are hampering efforts by national health authorities to take precautions against this highly infectious disease.
His administration requested only $1.5 billion in new funding to enhance U.S. preparedness against the fast-spreading disease. In addition, it plans to reallocate $1 billion away from other critical health programs such as the fight against Ebola to spend against Covid-19.
Trump continues to downplay the outbreak, falsely claiming it's been contained in the U.S. On the other hand, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admits to the possibility of a community spread of Covid-19 in the U.S. On Tuesday, CDC said Covid-19 is "likely" to continue to spread throughout the United States and the American public should "prepare for the expectation that this is going to be bad."
Health and human services secretary Alex Azar admitted before the Senate the Trump administration isn't prepared to tackle a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Senate minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) assailed Trump's $1.5 billion request, calling it "too little and too late." He instead proposed a minimum budget of $3.1 billion in new funding. He also said four words describe Trump's response to the crisis: "towering and dangerous incompetence."
Other Democrats criticized Trump for requesting only $2.5 billion to combat the disease in the U.S., an amount one Democratic congresswoman described as "completely inadequate." Of the $2.5 billion, more than $1 billion will be earmarked for buying vaccines, said the White House. The $1 billion will be drawn from funds already budgeted by Congress such as unused money to fight Ebola virus disease (EVD). The rest of the money, $1.5 billion, will be used for therapeutics, vaccine development and the stockpiling of personal protective equipment such as masks.
House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said the Trump administration's funding request was "woefully insufficient to protect Americans from the deadly coronavirus outbreak."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the supplemental funding Trump requested is "undersized" and "completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency."
"The House will swiftly advance a strong, strategic funding package that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis" said Pelosi.
She blasted Trump for worsening America's vulnerabilities to contagious diseases by seeking to ransack funds still needed to keep Ebola in check.
"The president should not be raiding money that Congress has appropriated for other life-or-death public health priorities," she said.
She also hinted the House might craft its own plan to fight Covid-19 and not rely on Trump's proposal.
Another clue to Trump's nonchalance about the threat posed by Covid-19 can be gleaned from a tweet he posted Tuesday: "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all the relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!"
Trump a few weeks ago downplayed the impact of Covid-19, saying it might even fade away in April with warmer weather. Health experts have scoffed at this idea.
CDC confirms 57 U.S. cases of Covid-19. Of this total, 14 are people diagnosed in the United States and 39 are Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China (the outbreak's Ground Zero) and from the cruise ship Diamond Princess still quarantined in Yokohama harbor in Japan.
U.S. law requires the federal government secure congressional approval to redirect that money to fight Covid-19 and the coronavirus that causes it, which is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
A White House statement said the $2.5 billion supplemental funding the plan will be used "to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies."