U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that more cases of coronavirus are likely to occur in the United States and asked a Senate subcommittee to approve $2.5 billion in funding to combat the outbreak after proposing cutbacks to the department’s budget.
“While the immediate risk to individual members of the American public remains low, in several countries, including outside Asia, there is now community transmission which is deeply concerned,” Azar said, speaking before a Senate appropriations subcommittee. He said recent rapidly spreading outbreaks in Iran and Italy were particularly alarming.
“We are working closely with partners in the federal, local, and private sector to plan to reduce the spread of viruses in the United States, as we will see more cases here,” he said.
Azar said the additional funding would help the U.S. expand surveillance systems for the new virus, support state and local governments. Help vaccine and therapy development and expand protective equipment stockpiles such as surgical masks.
The Trump administration on Monday asked Congress for the authorization.
Several senators on the subcommittee questioned whether Azar was asking for sufficient funding. Particularly since he had proposed cuts to the department’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) budget.
Cuts to the CDC “will not help us deal with this,” a Washington Democrat, Senator Patty Murray said. “We can’t plan on the cheap or at the last minute”. Azar also said the U.S. needs to build up the surgical mask manufacturing capability.
He said the country currently has a supply of 30 million N95 surgical masks. But HHS estimates suggest that they will need 300 million masks in the world.