WASHINGTON — As communities across Missouri — and the globe — evaluate the spread of coronavirus and how to respond, discussions here have revolved not just around how to contain its spread, but also on the conflicting narratives the public is receiving from various figures in the federal government.

Eighty-eight cases of the new coronavirus had been reported in the U.S. as of Monday morning. Six have died.

Federal and state authorities expect COVID-19, the new coronavirus, to continue spreading throughout the country. They recommend washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and social distancing from large gatherings and those who appear ill.

Four of those cases — all announced since Wednesday — had not come as a result of travel abroad or contact with a known infected person. They were announced by officials in Washington state, Oregon and California. Cases that arise without a clear source are referred to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as community spread.

The House is expected to pass a bipartisan emergency budget package to address the disease as early as this week. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s office said in an email last week that he would work to deliver resources to state and local health authorities in his capacity as chair of the Senate subcommittee that appropriates funds to the federal health department.

The office of U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, said in an email Thursday that funding would be directed to vaccine development and infrastructure and that she was optimistic the funding would be sufficient in helping the executive branch address COVID-19.

The office of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., was interviewed on the issue of resources on “Fox and Friends,” where he said: “We’re going to have to step up our efforts. There’s no need to panic. There is need to take every available precaution and step. I believe the administration will do that. I applaud the president’s request for more federal funding. We may need a lot more than $2.5 billion, and if we do, I’m sure Congress will give it to them.”

More than 4,300 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed in South Korea, and more than 80,000 have been confirmed in mainland China.

Italy, Iran and Japan have also seen high infection rates. Globally as of Monday, more than 3,000 have died as a result of the new coronavirus, and there are more than 89,000 cases total, according to an interactive Johns Hopkins map.

Coronavirus has strained public health systems across the planet, highlighting gaps in containment and mitigation strategies.

In the U.S, a key issue has been testing. The first person infected from an unknown source was initially refused a test because of tight CDC criteria, but those criteria were widened after she tested positive.

CDC test kits were distributed to public health labs across the country, but those tests may have provided inaccurate results. California has reported test shortages. Other countries, notably Italy, have had testing and reporting problems.

Additionally, test results were often delayed as they were required to be shipped to federal facilities.

The Trump administration said Friday that it had rolled out guidelines to correct test kit results and were encouraging private development of tests to improve the country’s capacity.

Also of concern are the effects labor shortages are having on medical supplies. The first delay in a drug’s production was reported this week to the Food and Drug Administration, it announced Thursday.

In a statement, Hawley said the international outbreak had “highlighted severe and longstanding weaknesses in our medical supply chain.” On Thursday, he introduced a bill to the Senate to get ahead of potential medical device shortages from international supply chain disruptions.

Hawley’s bill would require manufacturers of medical devices to inform the FDA if a supply shortage was possible, speed up FDA review of devices in the case of a shortage and give the agency permission to more critically analyze medical supply chains if deemed necessary.

Partisanship flares

The conversation in Washington has focused on more than just public health strategy. There are also discussions on the disease’s effects on the economy and partisan attacks firing in both directions, with the parties accusing each other of inflaming public panic and using the disease as a political tool.

Democrats have accused President Donald Trump’s administration of fumbling containment of COVID-19, with conflicting messages from various departments highlighting either the danger of the virus or the strength of the economy. They argue political actors in the administration have downplayed the seriousness of the new disease while, simultaneously, career health officials in that same administration have consistently reaffirmed the seriousness of the epidemic.

In Congress, Republicans and Democrats have been batting around figures for emergency coronavirus funding and taking potshots at members of opposite parties’ recommendations.

On a radio appearance Thursday, Blunt, R-Mo., said the president was trying to prevent coronavirus from destabilizing the economy. Blunt said it was time to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Trump initially requested $2.5 billion in emergency funding and transferred funds for containment and mitigation, including vaccine development, saying the virus was “under control.”

Democrats called that inadequate, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, proposing an $8.5 billion package. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Wednesday, suggested $4 billion in funds after speaking with Democratic appropriators.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the administration’s efforts, appointed Debbie Birx as the coronavirus response coordinator. Birx is a seasoned federal health official — she worked on HIV research in the Army and served under the two previous administrations working to address HIV/AIDS globally.

Hartzler vigorously supported the vice president in a Friday news release, saying he had “the executive and managerial experience to oversee this operation” and was “already putting together the best and brightest our nation has to offer to confront this public health and national security threat.”

Two Missouri representatives, 5th District U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, and 1st District U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, were two of four cosigners of a letter requesting more information on the economic impact of the virus internationally and domestically from the president’s Council of Economic Advisors.

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Friday that he expected the economy to incur no long-term damage from the new virus.

Some immediate impacts have been visible both for consumers and companies, though. Amazon has sold out various brands of hand sanitizer, and various companies across the country have requested employees not travel internationally or domestically. MU also has canceled some of its study abroad programs and is asking faculty to restrict travel to countries with outbreaks.

Over 60 people in Missouri have been evaluated for the spread of the new coronavirus, as of Thursday. Those tested all showed negative results for the virus.

Randall Williams, director of the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, was briefed last week in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of both state and federal officials.

Williams has also been meeting with state and local authorities, and briefed the governor, lieutenant governor, and the legislature on Monday regarding the state’s preparation efforts.

  • Second-year graduate student, reporting from Washington, D.C.

  • Mark Horvit is the state government editor. Call me at 817-726-1621 with story ideas, tips or complaints.

  • Hi! I am an Assistant City Editor for the education beat, which means I help with breaking news and all things K-12 or higher education. Any tips or story ideas can be sent to me at hlht46@mail.missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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