CAPITOL HILL - U.S. lawmakers are working to quickly pass a bipartisan bill providing billions of dollars in emergency funding to address the worldwide spread of a coronavirus.
Increasing the pressure on lawmakers to address the threat is the first U.S. coronavirus case with no known cause, meaning the female victim in Northern California did not travel outside the U.S. or come in contact with anyone who is infected.
More cases likely
Nevertheless, health officials briefing lawmakers on the U.S. response said the public should not panic, even though more cases are expected.
“The risk of the American public is low,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have an aggressive containment strategy that really has worked up to this time; 15 cases in the United States. Until the case that we just had in Sacramento, we hadn’t had a new case in two weeks. We do believe we’re going to continue to see new cases.”
The rapid movement of the virus is forcing many lawmakers to acknowledge that no one knows how much money will be enough, whether it’s the president’s $2.5 billion plan or Senate Democrats’ $8.5 billion proposal.
“We should just be ready to make sure our scientists and the folks that are on the front line, particularly the folks that are in public health systems and hospitals on the frontline have the resources and support,” said Rep. Ami Bera, a Democrat from California and a physician.
Despite political disagreements, lawmakers are expecting to pass that extra funding by mid-March.
McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, said he has faith that bipartisan discussions on the Senate Appropriations Committee would agree on “the right sum ... at this time to ensure our nation’s needs are fully funded” within the next two weeks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has tried to calm fears about the virus by visiting a Chinatown in her California congressional district, said lawmakers were getting close to a deal.
“We must stand ready to work in a bipartisan fashion in Congress, and with the administration to achieve the necessary goal,” she said. “Lives are at stake. This is not a time for name calling or playing politics.”
Reuters contributed to this report.