On Wednesday evening, President Trump held a press conference, announcing that Vice President Mike Pence will be in charge of the US Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The former Indiana governor, though not a scientist, will bring in his administrative experience to help coordinate actions across government agencies. He is taking over from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar who, according to Trump, will still be in charge of the coronavirus task force, so it was unclear how responsibilities will be shared between Azar and Pence going forward.
The Trump administration furthermore requested $2.5bn from congress to fight the coronavirus outbreak, of which $1bn will be used to fund vaccine development. While $1.25bn is requested as new funding, the rest will be repurposed from other funds, among that $500m that was intended to fight Ebola. Lawmakers are now discussing an even higher spending package of up to $8bn to fight the outbreak in the US.
Though Trump said the threat to US citizens from Covid-19, claiming more than 2,800 lives to date globally, is very low, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Nancy Messonnier pointed out in a press conference on Tuesday that it is only a matter of when, not if, the coronavirus will start spreading more widely in the US.
The CDC itself is facing criticism for slow testing protocols and not providing enough virus testing kits, resulting in very few tested cases in the US. However, the ongoing influenza and cold season make diagnosing the new coronavirus more difficult.
A new case of a person who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern California on Wednesday, with no known connections to the centres of the outbreak in China, raises alarms about the possible beginning of what is referred to as community-spread in the US, emphasising the uncertainty to what extent the new virus is already circulating undetected in the US.
No vaccine or treatment is currently available to fight Covid-19 but Moderna / NIH’s mRNA vaccine will start Phase I clinical trials by the end of April. Furthermore, Gilead’s remdesivir, the promising antiviral for Covid-19 treatment originally developed to fight Ebola, is currently being tested in phase three clinical trials in China and patients have been recruited for clinical trials of remdesivir at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship are quarantined.