Romney: Trump administration unprepared for coronavirus outbreak

Romney: Trump administration unprepared for coronavirus outbreak

C.D.C. Officials Warn of Coronavirus Outbreaks in the U.S.

Clusters of infection are likely in American communities, health officials said. Some lawmakers questioned whether the nation is prepared.

BY ALEXANDER BOLTO

Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), a prominent Republican voice in Congress, told senior Trump administration officials Tuesday that they are not adequately prepared for the possibility the coronavirus may spread more widely in the United States.

Romney confronted administration officials at a private briefing on Capitol Hill about the same time that President Trump downplayed concerns about spreading infections, telling reporters in New Delhi the situation is “under control” and is a “problem that’s going to go away.” 

Romney, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he does not think the administration has done enough to prepare for the infectious virus spreading widely among the domestic population.

“I’m very disappointed in the degree to which we’ve prepared for a pandemic, both in terms of protective equipment and in terms of medical devices that would help people once they are infected,” he said.

“At this stage, I think we are substantially underinvesting in what would be appropriate for a setting which could be serious,” he added.

Romney said he hopes a dire scenario can be avoided but added “we don’t know what the future holds.”

“I think we should be pulling out all the stops,” he said.

Romney raised these concerns with administration officials Tuesday morning at an all-senators briefing.

Dr. Bob Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principle deputy director at the Center for Disease Control, were among the officials who briefed senators.

Other Republicans have also raised concerns about how the Trump administration is handling the rapid spread of the virus, which originated in China, but has registered hundreds of cases in South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy.

So far 57 cases have been reported in the U.S., most of whom contracted the disease abroad and were then repatriated.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Appropriations homeland security and health and human services subcommittees, said the administration needs to do a better job communicating the level of the threat. 

“Here’s what they need to do, and I would suggest that Secretary Azar be the one to do it,” he said, referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“There’s some real basic questions that the American people need answers [to.] How many cases do we have? Based on their modeling, how many do they think we will have? How’s the virus transmitted?” he said.

“What is the mortality rate? What’s the mortality rate compared to influenza? How many facemasks are we going to need and are we working on getting more? How many respirators are we going to need and are we working on getting more?” he said.

Kennedy said he wants to know “what steps in a concrete way” the administration is taking to stop the virus from spreading throughout the United States.

He said the Department of Homeland Security and health officials at other departments have given conflicting answers on how long it’s likely to take to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

“God made these things called telephones and they could get on the phone and talk to each other,” he said.

Kennedy had earlier in the day grilled acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf during a subcommittee budget hearing, appearing increasingly frustrated as Wolf was unable to answer questions about coronavirus preparedness measures.

A senior administration health official warned Tuesday that the spread of the coronavirus to the United States now appears to be inevitable and could cause “severe” disruptions to daily activities and the economy.

Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters Tuesday that containing the virus will become increasingly difficult as more and more countries are affected.

“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” she said, warning: “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.”

Nathaniel Weixel contributed.