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Remarks at HHS Press Briefing on the Administration's Response to COVID-19

Alex M. Azar II
Hubert Humphrey Building
February 25, 2020
Washington, D.C.

The Trump Administration will continue to be aggressively transparent as the outbreak and our response evolve. We will continue keeping the American people and the media apprised of the situation and what everyone can do to prepare.

In the meantime, I will continue to work closely with President Trump and the President’s task force on our preparations to keep Americans safe.

As Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us here today.

This HHS briefing on the China coronavirus aims to do two things: provide the American public with an update on the risks presented by the virus, and provide the latest on the actions that President Trump's administration is taking to respond to the outbreak and keep Americans safe.

I am joined by Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of CDC; Dr. Tony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Robert Kadlec, HHS's Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; and Dr. Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of Food and Drugs.

As of this morning, we still have only 14 cases of the China coronavirus detected in the United States, involving travel to China or close contacts with travelers; 3 cases among Americans repatriated from Wuhan; and 40 cases among American passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess.

I want to thank the responders and communities that have worked with HHS and the administration to provide these Americans with the treatment they need. I'm also grateful to the governors and other state and local leaders who have worked with us in close partnership so far.

The immediate risk to the general American public remains low. But, as we have warned, that has the potential to change quickly. There is now community transmission in a number of countries, including outside of Asia.

That is deeply concerning, and community spread in other countries will make successful containment at our borders harder and harder. That is why we have already been working closely with state, local, and private sector partners to prepare for mitigating the virus's potential spread in the United States, because we will likely see more cases here.

Dr. Schuchat will provide some more details on what that will look like, including how we would treat potential cases that arise from community transmission here in the U.S.

This preparation has been possible in part because of how aggressively President Trump has responded to this outbreak. As soon as we knew of the threat presented by the novel virus, public health leaders were monitoring it and beginning to prepare.

The travel restrictions that the President put in place at around the beginning of this month have given our country valuable time to prepare, and that is precisely what they were designed to do.

That includes working with Congress. Yesterday, the White House sent a request to Congress to make at least $2.5 billion in funding available for preparedness and response.

There are five major priorities within the supplemental, which I underscored this morning before the Senate appropriations committee.

First, we need to expand our surveillance work, building on an existing system we have within CDC's influenza surveillance network.

Second, we will need funds to support public health preparedness and response for state and local governments for what could be a very large-scale response. This support complements the significant funds that these partners have received from CDC for preparedness—about two-thirds of a billion dollars a year in recent years.

Third and fourth, we need to support development of therapeutics and fourth, we need to support development of vaccines.

Given the scale of this outbreak, the private sector sees a real market for both kinds of countermeasures, as well as for diagnostics, but federal funding and guidance can help accelerate this work. Dr. Fauci will address the current status of that work in more depth.

Fifth and finally, we need funds for the purchase of personal protective equipment for the Strategic National Stockpile, a topic that Dr. Kadlec can address.

I'll conclude by noting that, though scheduling conflicts prevented this briefing from including other members of the President's Coronavirus Task Force, we will be providing a new update from interagency leaders soon, and we expect to continue doing so regularly.

Earlier this afternoon on CNBC, NEC Director Larry Kudlow offered an update on how we see this outbreak affecting the economy.

This morning, Dr. Messonnier from CDC provided the usual telebriefing.

As Dr. Schuchat will emphasize in just a moment, the Trump Administration will continue to be aggressively transparent as the outbreak and our response evolve. We will continue keeping the American people and the media apprised of the situation and what everyone can do to prepare.

In the meantime, I will continue to work closely with President Trump and the President's task force on our preparations to keep Americans safe.

With that, I will hand things over to Dr. Schuchat for an update from CDC. Dr. Schuchat?

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on February 25, 2020