White House officials hit back at allegations that cuts to infectious disease budgets were putting people at risk from a coronavirus outbreak in the latest effort to ease public concern.
The Trump administration has been under growing scrutiny for claims it had cut funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it more difficult to respond to an epidemic.
Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought said in a White House briefing that the headlines were untrue. He said savings were made through trimming waste and unnecessary programs rather than cutting anything connected to fighting infectious disease.
“Things like climate change research, things like occupational health research, that is not going to go away but is something that we do not need to jump-start.”
Instead, the CDC’s work on infectious diseases and preparedness saw a bump in funding by 3% to $4.317 billion for 2021, he said.
“It is not true that we have cut CDC’s infectious disease fighting” capability, he said.
The administration is trying to draw a line under growing fears that coronavirus will cut a swath through the United States. Markets have been in free fall as confidence plummets, and shoppers have been stocking up on food in anticipation of a crisis.
President Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the response on Wednesday amid criticism that fears were growing due to mixed messaging.
On Friday, three senior officials briefed reporters on resources available to tackle the virus.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said 62 people tested positive for COVID-19, the majority were patients repatriated from China or the Diamond Princess cruise liner.
He played down forecasts from elsewhere that the disease could infect 70% of the world’s population with a 2% fatality rate.
The U.S. had the benefit of having time to prepare for cases as the scale of the emergency emerged in China, he said.
“It’s not clear we’ll see the same fatality rates in our healthcare system,” he said. “And it’s not clear we’ll see the same attack rates or penetration rates … with the type of early, advanced, world’s best public health system that identifies cases early on, contains, and mitigates.”
The result, he added, was that the risk to the public was low.
“But we have all repeatedly emphasized that has the potential to change,” he said.