The Hill

Is The US Health System Prepared For A Novel Coronavirus Outbreak?

The number of people killed by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) increased to 362 worldwide and efforts are still ongoing to create a vaccine or treatment for the infection. The U.S. also saw a rising number of patients in the past week, with four new cases. 

Health officials reported the ninth patient infected by the coronavirus in Santa Clara County on Sunday. The woman travelled from Wuhan, China, to the U.S. to visit her family on Jan 23, CNBC reported

Officials marked the patient as the second confirmed case in the San Francisco Bay area. The other areas with reported infections are California, Washington, Illinois and Arizona.

There are more than 100 people who showed signs of coronavirus infection and are under investigation in 26 states across the U.S. The 2019-nCoV has been detected in more than 25 countries and territories, with a total of 14,557 confirmed cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health experts expect the number of patients to continue to increase in the coming weeks. In the U.S., federal health officials have been increasing efforts to combat the 2019-nCoV but some experts questioned the capacity of the government to monitor and contain the virus. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leading the efforts against the coronavirus. But the agency may face challenges in the future due to recent cuts in its funding. 

The CDC currently holds a budget nearly 10 percent lower than what it received a decade ago, according to John Auerbach, president and chief executive of advocacy group Trust for America’s Health. 

State and local public health also suffered from recent funding cuts, with more than 50,000 jobs lost in the past years. In the same period, public health emergency preparedness grants were reduced by a third and hospital preparedness grants were cut by 50 percent.

“When this hits us with any real punch, public health will be the fireman, the policeman, the EMS, the National Guard, all wrapped in one,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said. “And yet, when you look at what we invest in public health overall, unfortunately it is often on a shoestring budget.”

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the CDC is working with clinical labs to manage samples for testing. But the agency plans to launch a new kit in the coming weeks for a more localized testing, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Right now, the CDC has been able to manage, but that’s clearly not going to be a long-term solution, and the CDC knows this,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said. 

The agency’s localized testing is expected to cost more than existing methods. Another looming problem is interagency coordination.

Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it remains unclear how the Trump administration will handle a larger coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger currently leads interagency response to the outbreak. But he also manages all matters for China among other tasks. 

Meanwhile, Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency is working with health experts to study the 2019-nCoV, its severity and the length of the incubation period. The agency’s emergency response arm also started work to assess the Strategic National Stockpile, which includes pharmaceuticals and other necessary medical supplies, for the potential outbreak in the U.S.

CDC The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs under the Department of Health and Human Services and serves as the leading national public health institute of the U.S. Raed Mansour/flickr

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