Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday that all passengers on flights from Italy and South Korea are being screened “multiple times” for any signs of the coronavirus before they board their flights to the U.S.
Pence, who is heading up the White House’s coronavirus task force, repeated that “the risk to the average American of contracting the coronavirus remains low,” but added that the U.S. is taking more steps to try and prevent any further spread of the virus that has so far killed 10 people in the country.
“As of yesterday morning, all passengers on all direct flights from all airports in Italy or South Korea are being screened multiple times before they board any of these airlines,” Pence said during a meeting with President Trump and airline executives.
The vice president’s announcement comes as lawmakers in Congress are finalizing a roughly $8 billion emergency bill to fund the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The House plans to vote on the deal later Wednesday and Senate leaders are pressing for a vote in that chamber by the end of the week. The agreement was announced by spokespersons for the House and Senate Appropriations panels that negotiated the legislation. The legislation came together in little more than a week, a rarity in a deeply polarized Washington. It triples the $2.5 billion plan unveiled by the president just last week.
Trump, however, is sure to sign the measure, which has the blessing of top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
The announcement of new screening measures for travelers from Italy and South Korea also comes amid a mixed response to the virus from the Trump administration and public health officials.
Scientists say a vaccine is not just around the corner, despite Trump’s repeated claims that it is. Health officials do say that the U.S. appears to be more prepared than some other countries afflicted or threatened by the virus, but it's too early to know how the plans will hold up.
Intent on calming the waters, Trump last week spoke of virus cases in the U.S. “going very substantially down, not up,” as health officials tracked the numbers actually going up. And he said all initially identified victims were recovering when at least four were seriously ill.
"It's got the world aflutter but it'll work out,” Trump told a meeting of the National Association of Counties on Tuesday.
Testifying before the Senate on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health made it clear that neither a coronavirus treatment nor a vaccine can be ready quickly. Fauci indicated potential treatments may come before a vaccine. “The timelines are fundamentally different,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.