NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday the federal government should get ahead of the need to declare an official public health emergency should an infectious outbreak of coronavirus happen in the United States.
The New York lawmaker’s call comes as five cases of the deadly disease were confirmed in four states: Illinois, Washington, Arizona, and two in California, the first cases in the U.S. since authorities identified Wuhan, China, as the epicenter of the virus. Four people are currently being tested and in isolation in New York and a student from Wesleyan University in Connecticut is also under surveillance.
The Center for Disease Control said all of the infected patients traveled recently from the infected city of Wuhan.
“If we have learned anything from the risks that new viruses pose to public health it is that a ‘stitch in time saves nine,’ and the more we can do to be proactive, the better off the public will be,” Schumer said on Sunday.
Construction crews in Wuhan are racing to build two hospitals as leaders there say the virus is spreading faster and well beyond the mainland.
The death toll has climbed to 80 and more than 2,700 people are infected. About 56 million people are on lockdown in an effort to contain coronavirus infections.
According to Schumer, a Stony Brook University professor studying the outbreak is now stuck in China due to the travel bans. The U.S. consulate in Wuhan reportedly will evacuate personnel and some private citizens on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Canada confirmed its first case of the virus, bringing the total number of countries to 13.
Local leaders in New York said it’s important that information is shared with the public clearly and in a way that does not create panic.
“We have to talk about public health issues in a really calm, scientific way – in a way that doesn’t scare people but in a way that gets people the facts,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “We did that when there was an Ebola scare, we did that during Legionnaires. It’s important for us to do it with this as well.”
At John F. Kennedy Airport, screeners from the CDC are already taking temperatures of passengers arriving from central China. Schumer is urging federal officials to be even more proactive, asking that they declare the outbreak a public health emergency so millions more in funds can be made available to fight the deadly bug, CBS2’s Christina Fan reported.
“We simply want it unlocked. The CDC will want it unlocked, and it has full discretion to use that $85 million as it sees fit,” Schumer said. “While the present risk is low, you can never be too careful when it comes to something as deadly and virulent as this virus.”