The Trump administration on Friday announced it has formed a new committee as part of a response to the coronavirus outbreak -- as part of an effort to quickly assess and respond to the outbreak and to better inform decision making about public health crises.
“We are creating a direct line to the nation’s top scientific minds on public health. With the complexities of assessing and responding to emerging infectious diseases, a standing committee will build on the great work being done by the Trump Administration to rapidly engage with experts from the private sector, non-governmental organizations, the academic community, and relevant stakeholders from the broader science community,” White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier said in a statement.
“This committee is a critical tool for examining emerging infectious diseases, like the COVID-19 outbreak, and providing expedited, strategic input to policy making processes,” he said.
The Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats is being set up by the OSTP and the National Academy of Sciences, to respond on short notice to federal requests to assess policy implications related to an infectious disease or health threat. It is being eyed as a way to serve as a focal point for policy discussions with experts and to combat misinformation about health threats.
“COVID-19 is the sort of international health threat that creates a climate ripe for misinformation, rumors, and panic, all of which can lead to poor decisions. The National Academies stand ready to provide evidence-based advice to protect US citizens in a timely and expedited manner,” said Dr. Marcia McNutt, the president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The commission’s establishment comes as the U.S., along with other governments across the world, is ramping up its response to the virus as it threatens the global economy and as the number of cases hits 83,000 worldwide.
The coronavirus has not yet hit the U.S. as hard as it has hit many Asian countries, though U.S. authorities recently confirmed the first American coronavirus case that had no link to international travel in California, indicating the disease is now spreading in at least one American community. Other areas of the country are also currently testing suspected cases of coronavirus.
China, the country hardest hit, has seen lower numbers of new infections, with 327 additional cases reported Friday, bringing the country's total to 78,824. Another 44 people died there for a total of 2,788.
South Korea has recorded 2,337 cases while Iran has had 34 deaths and 388 cases. Italy, France and Germany were also seeing increases, with dozens of infections.
The Trump administration has taken a number of measures, including placing travel restrictions on foreign nationals who have been in China in the last 14 days and implementing screening at ports of entry. On Wednesday, President Trump held a press conference in which he said the government was ready to adapt and “do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads.”
"But we’re very, very ready for this, for anything -- whether it’s going to be a breakout of larger proportions or whether or not we’re -- you know, we’re at that very low level, and we want to keep it that way," he told reporters.
Trump has also requested $2.5 billion in funding from Congress for the coronavirus response -- a move quickly panned by Democratic congressional leaders as insufficient.
"For almost two years, the Trump Administration has left critical positions in charge of managing pandemics at the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security vacant. His most recent budget called for slashing funding for the Centers for Disease Control, which is on the frontlines of this emergency," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "Weeks after the Trump Budget called for slashing the CDC budget during this coronavirus epidemic, this undersized funding request shows an ongoing failure to understand urgent public health needs."
Trump responded Friday by accusing Democrats of trying to politicize the crisis and blame him.
“So, the Coronavirus, which started in China and spread to various countries throughout the world, but very slowly in the U.S. because President Trump closed our border, and ended flights, VERY EARLY, is now being blamed, by the Do Nothing Democrats, to be the fault of ‘Trump,’” he tweeted.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.