Nearly 200 people in Scott County were infected with HIV from 2011-2014 as a result of sharing dirty needles, and Pence faced fierce criticism for dragging his feet on lifting the ban on needle exchanges.
Pence’s handling of the outbreak was seen as a window into his potential handling of health crises ahead of the 2016 presidential election and after his appointment as the White House coronavirus chief.
Trump bemoans criticisms of administration’s response
President Donald Trump on Thursday went after the “fake news” media for casting his response to coronavirus in what he characterized as a bad light.
“I think it’s an incredible achievement what our country’s done,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
He said his administration had been improperly critiqued for closing borders to foreign citizens coming from China, arguing that it was the proper measure at the time.
He claimed he was accused of being a “racist” by the media for limiting travel from Asia while leaving the borders open to other affected countries. Trump also complimented himself for Wednesday evening’s news conference where he announced Vice President Mike Pence to head his coronavirus taskforce, saying it was “calming.”
Trump also assured reporters that the coronavirus will disappear and the United States is closely collaborating with other countries to contain the situation.
Later in the evening, Trump used much more severe terms to disparage Democrats for focusing too much on his impeachment to act on the coronavirus outbreak.
“Do Nothing Democrats were busy wasting their time on the Impeachment Hoax, & anything they could do to make the Republican Party look bad, while I was busy calling early boarder & flight closings, putting us way ahead in our battle with the Coronavirus. Dems called it very wrong!” Trump tweeted.
Pence led his first task force meeting amid questions about who exactly is leading the response efforts.
Pence said he is leading the group of high level officials and health experts, but will rely on Azar as chairman.
“The President has every confidence in the secretary as I do. But the President wanted to make it clear to the American people that we’re going to bring a whole of government approach to this,” Pence said.
He added that yesterday and today he spoke with Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress about the virus and the supplemental spending bill that will direct funds for prevention and treatment efforts.
The president’s vision is a “whole of government approach,” Pence said.
“The work we are doing here represents the most important work we are doing here today,” Pence said.
During his visit to HHS, Pence also made a stop at the Secretary’s Operations Center to say hello to government employees monitoring the outbreak. Employees sat at computers and took note of outbreak numbers around the world on large video screens at the front of the room.
Dow posts 1,000+ point loss amid worsening coronavirus fears
U.S. stocks plummeted Thursday despite the Trump administration’s efforts to calm markets and fears about the coronavirus outbreak. The Dow closed nearly 1,200 points in the red after a volatile day in the market.
The Dow tumbled more than 500 points just after the opening bell, and though it had made up much of its losses by midday, the market took another hit in the afternoon not long after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state was monitoring 8,400 for possible infections.
That news preceded another wave of selloffs, wiping out earlier gains. All three major indices in the New York Stock Exchange entered the day in correction territory, or down at least 10 percent from all-time highs.
— Caitlin Oprysko
Public health experts warned that some of the president’s claims Wednesday night could be dangerously misleading.
The slow pace of screening for the virus is taking on new urgency after the CDC on Wednesday night confirmed the first coronavirus case in a U.S. patient who had not traveled to an infected area or come into contact with someone known to be infected.
Trump’s alternately combative and light-hearted press conference on the government’s coronavirus response did little to calm escalating global concerns about the epidemic, as U.S. markets continued to slide upon opening Thursday morning amid reports the virus continues to spread to more countries.
Trump insisted Wednesday night that health workers are “testing everybody that we need to test,” a statement one expert called “blatantly false.”
— Alice Miranda Ollstein and Sarah Owermohle
The latest U.S. coronavirus case highlights the country’s still-limited ability to test patients for the virus.
Just 40 of more than 100 public health labs in the U.S. are currently able to diagnose the coronavirus because of problems with a test developed by the CDC, potentially slowing the response if the virus starts taking hold here. The faulty test has also delayed a plan to widely screen people with symptoms of respiratory illness who have tested negative for influenza to detect whether the coronavirus may be stealthily spreading.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers Thursday that HHS expects 93 labs around the country to be able to conduct their own coronavirus tests by Monday, using either the CDC’s diagnostic or a private-sector alternative that could be available as early as Friday.
The CDC has conducted more than 3,600 screenings so far, and there is currently no backlog. But the delayed rollout of tests to public health labs around the country has raised concerns that the coronavirus could be spreading undetected.
Without quick action, the chances increase that the virus could pass from person to person within the U.S. and build into a full-fledged outbreak.
Right now, only a narrow group of Americans is being tested: those who have recently traveled to China or have been in contact with someone confirmed to have the virus. That is too limited to detect potential problems before they grow larger.
— David Lim and Adam Cancryn
California’s governor says the state doesn’t have enough test kits as officials monitor 8,400 people.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that the state is working with federal officials to expand its ability to evaluate people for the coronavirus, one day after it was revealed the first patient likely to have contracted it within a U.S. community was initially denied a test.
The governor said federal officials earlier Thursday assured that “testing protocols will be advanced with urgency.” The state’s 200 testing kits were a “simply inadequate” number, Newsom said, and he called it a top priority to conduct “point of contact” testing where patients are staying.
Late Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health revealed that a Solano County resident tested positive for COVID-19. That patient has been at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento since Feb. 19 after being transferred from another Northern California hospital.
UCD leaders said their staff initially suspected coronavirus as a potential cause but were denied a test because the patient did not meet the CDC’s criteria for testing. The CDC eventually granted a test on Sunday, and the patient was diagnosed as positive Wednesday.
CDC Director Robert Redfield told a congressional panel Thursday that the CDC has revised its screening rules to expand testing after learning of the California case.
— Victoria Colliver and Kevin Yamamura
A California woman potentially exposed dozens of people at a small hospital more than a week before she was diagnosed with coronavirus.
The woman, the first patient likely to have contracted coronavirus within a U.S. community, spent three days in the Vacaville hospital before being transferred to the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where she was finally tested.
After learning the patient had been diagnosed Wednesday with the novel coronavirus strain, the hospital launched meticulous tracing of anyone in the Vacaville facility who may have had any contact with that patient, according to hospital and state health officials.
— Victoria Colliver
Appropriators are planning to work through the weekend to prep coronavirus bill for passage.
The total package is expected to be lower than the $8.5 billion Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed earlier this week, landing somewhere between $6 billion and $8 billion. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) confirmed Thursday that the package will exceed the $4 billion House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has suggested.
The measure is likely to include orders requiring the Trump administration to replenish the $136 million it plans to transfer from various health accounts to pad out its coronavirus response.
The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Thursday that it is in the process of shifting $5 million from substance abuse and mental health programs, in addition to raiding $37 million from a program that helps low-income households pay their energy bills. The administration also wants to take $63 million from the National Institutes of Health, $4.8 million from Children and Families Services Programs, $4.2 million from Aging and Disability programs and $5.2 million from various CDC programs.
— Caitlin Emma
The U.S. is suspending some travel for military and civilian Defense Department personnel to and within the Middle East.
All leave and liberty travel with the Central Command theater is banned until further notice due to concerns over the coronavirus, according to a memo obtained by POLITICO. For example, personnel assigned to a unit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, cannot travel to the United Arab Emirates or Jeddah for the weekend.
The military took the extra step of also banning all non-essential travel specifically within Saudi Arabia, which includes “going to the mall, movies, other crowded venues or recreational facilities/establishments,” according to the memo.
The ban does not extend to “essential travel,” which includes transit between controlled access compounds and authorized hotels, grocery stores and medical appointments. The ban also does not apply to leave outside the theater, according to the memo.
— Lara Seligman
The top HELP Democrat called for Pence’s removal from coronavirus response.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on Thursday called on President Donald Trump to replace Vice President Mike Pence as head of the coronavirus response team, citing the vice president’s “lack of public health experience and record of putting ideology over science.”
The push from Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, came hours after Pence named Debbie Birx, the U.S. government’s leader for combatting HIV/AIDS globally, as the Trump administration’s coronavirus “coordinator.”
Murray’s letter to Trump delved into Pence’s history as Indiana governor, where the vice president faced the largest HIV outbreak in the state’s history. Murray said Pence’s “months of inaction led to costly results” in Indiana, and called for Trump to fill Pence’s coronavirus role with a public health leader experienced in infectious disease control.
“Vice President Pence’s leadership failure during the Indiana HIV outbreak is reason enough to question his ability to lead the federal government’s response to coronavirus at this time,” the letter said. “At a time when science and public health considerations should be driving all decision-making and the public is looking to the federal government for clear, fact-based communications, it is clear that Vice President Pence is neither a responsible nor a reliable selection to lead the coronavirus response.”
— Myah Ward
Congressional Democrats demanded that funding for the coronavirus response should be ‘entirely new.’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are insisting the money cannot be “stolen from other accounts” and must include stipulations to prevent Trump from transferring the funding to anything besides combating infectious diseases.
The Democratic leaders are also calling for any potential vaccine to be both affordable and widely available, that interest-free loans be made available for small businesses affected by the outbreak, and that state and local governments are reimbursed for helping the federal response to the virus.
Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement that they “stand ready to work in a bipartisan fashion in Congress and with the administration to achieve this necessary goal.”
“Lives are at stake — this is not the time for name-calling or playing politics.”
— Jennifer Scholtes
Betsy DeVos said that she’s set up a task force to coordinate the Education Department’s response.
DeVos said during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing that she’s appointed her top deputy, Mick Zais, to lead the task force.
“We continue to work with the other agencies across government to ensure that we are prepared,” DeVos told lawmakers.
Federal public health officials have urged schools to brace for more cases of the virus in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that schools across the country develop contingency plans for school dismissals and closures, as well as the continuation of classes online.
President Donald Trump said during a news conference on Wednesday that “schools should be preparing and get ready, just in case.”
In Japan, The Japan Times reported that all schools have been asked to close for about a month, beginning Monday.
— Michael Stratford
Early missteps and a lack of a consistent message make the nation’s disease-fighting agency a focus of criticism.
Robert Redfield was a well-known AIDS researcher and favorite of Christian conservatives when President Donald Trump picked him to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018, where he has helped implement sweeping plans to fight HIV and opioids in the United States while pushing to tackle Ebola abroad.
But confronted by the increasingly global coronavirus outbreak, CDC and Redfield’s actions are now under intense scrutiny — both inside and outside the administration. Read more about how Trump’s CDC chief is facing increasingly harsh scrutiny.
— Dan Diamond