As COVID-19 continues to spread in several countries and jolt financial markets, some 2020 presidential contenders have laid out plans specifying how they would address disease outbreaks like the novel coronavirus — including during Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C.
The virus had infected at least 81,191 people and killed 2,768 as of Wednesday, according to a tally from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Centers for Systems Science and Engineering, with China bearing the brunt of the cases and deaths. The U.S. had at least 57 coronavirus cases, including 43 people repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and virus epicenter Wuhan, China.
President Donald Trump tweeted TWTR, +1.11% Monday that the coronavirus was “very much under control in the USA,” and announced Wednesday morning that he would hold a news conference on coronavirus that evening. He also blamed two news channels for “doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible,” misspelling “coronavirus,” and said that Democrats were “all talk, no action.”
On Monday, the White House requested $1.8 billion from Congress to aid the United States’ response, including $1.25 billion in emergency funding for the Department of Health and Human Services and $535 million previously allocated for the prevention and treatment of Ebola. Along with reprioritization of other funding and money from other government agencies, the Trump administration expects to spend at least $2.5 billion on its COVID-19 response, acting Office of Management and Budget director Russell Vought wrote in a letter to Congress.
“The administration believes additional federal resources are necessary to take steps to prepare for a potential worsening of the situation in the United States,” he said.
Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, criticized the White House’s funding request as inadequate. Schumer called it “too little too late” and accused Trump of “trying to steal funds dedicated to fight Ebola,” noting that the president’s most recent budget had proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Trump, in response, said on Twitter TWTR, +1.11% that Schumer was “complaining for publicity purposes” and charged that if he had asked for more funding, the senator “would say it is too much.”)
The Trump administration last month also declared the novel coronavirus a public-health emergency and said that foreign nationals who had been in China within the previous two weeks would be denied entry into the U.S., despite some public-health experts’ criticism of such travel bans. Returning U.S. citizens who had traveled in the past 14 days to China’s Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, would also be subject to a quarantine, the federal government said.
But some of the Democrats vying to replace Trump argue they would do a better job of protecting Americans from such threats. Here’s what the leading 2020 candidates say they’ll do about infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19:
True to her campaign slogan, the Massachusetts senator has a lengthy plan for “preventing, containing and treating infectious disease outbreaks at home and abroad.” Released in late January, the plan criticized Trump for proposing substantial spending cuts to “federal programs essential to health security” and eliminating the National Security Council’s head of global health security in 2018, among other actions.
“The Trump administration is absolutely bungling the response to coronavirus, putting our public health and our economy at risk. This is why we need a real plan and an adult in charge,” Warren wrote on Twitter hours before the debate Tuesday. “We must treat coronavirus as the serious health, diplomatic, and economic threat it is.”
Warren proposed fully funding agencies that work to prevent and manage outbreaks, including the CDC, HHS, U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department. She called for restoring the global health security position; investing globally in developing vaccines; fully funding the Global Health Security Agenda, which works to bolster nations’ public-health infrastructure; and establishing a “global health security corps” made up of scientists, doctors and aid workers to respond to outbreaks in conflict-stricken areas.
She would also create a “swear jar” requiring law-breaking drug companies to pay a fraction of profits from publicly funded research to the National Institutes of Health to expand research for vaccine development and infectious-disease treatment, she said. And she would work to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C in the U.S.
“We can invest at home to ensure our public health agencies, hospitals, and health care providers are ready to jump into action when outbreaks strike. And we can help build strong public health systems abroad,” she wrote. “By taking these steps, we will save lives, strengthen our relationships with allies, protect our interests, and help build resilience to outbreaks and pandemics.”
Warren’s infectious-diseases plan also incorporated other aspects of her platform, including transitioning to a government-run Medicare for All health-care system, ending the opioid epidemic and combating climate change. “A changing climate means infectious diseases will spread to new places, and it’s already happening,” she said.
“Diseases like coronavirus remind us why we need robust international institutions, strong investments in public health, and a government that is prepared to jump into action at a moment’s notice,” Warren wrote. “When we prepare and effectively collaborate to address common threats that don’t stop at borders, the international community can stop these diseases in their tracks.”
Debate moderators on Tuesday asked Klobuchar if she would close borders to Americans exposed to the coronavirus in hopes of preventing an outbreak. “Well, what we have to do is make sure that we have treatment for those Americans and that they are in a quarantine situation,” the Minnesota senator replied. “We don’t want to expose people, but we want to give them help.”
She also directed viewers to the CDC’s website, “so that people keep checking in and they follow the rules and they realize what they have to do if they feel sick and they call their health care provider.”
Klobuchar released a formal plan in late January, with her campaign writing in a Medium post that “the recent outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus is a stark reminder of the persistent threats posed by infectious diseases.”
“Senator Klobuchar believes the United States must continue to lead the global fight to prevent, detect and respond to pandemics,” the post said. (The World Health Organization said Monday that COVID-19 is not a pandemic.)
Klobuchar, like Warren, would recommit the U.S. to the Global Health Security Agenda. She would work with allies to boost “local health infrastructure in at-risk countries and regions,” her campaign said, and fully fund U.S. agencies, departments and programs that prevent and respond to disease outbreaks, including the HHS, CDC, NIH and State Department.
The senator would also bolster early-warning systems to detect and address outbreaks before they spiral to pandemic status, grow stockpiles of existing vaccines, invest in producing new vaccines, and build the global rapid-response system for deploying medical personnel for disease-outbreak response.
“In the Senate, she has championed efforts to address outbreaks at home and abroad,” Klobuchar’s campaign said. “As President, she will prioritize taking on global pandemics and protecting U.S. national security.”
The independent Vermont senator struck a sarcastic tone during Tuesday’s debate while referring to Trump’s coronavirus response. “In the White House today, we have a self-described ‘great genius’ — self-described — and this ‘great genius’ has told us that this coronavirus is going to end in two months,” Sanders said.
He called for “international cooperation” on infectious-disease responses, as well as for fully funding the CDC and NIH and expanding the World Health Organization.
Sanders’s campaign did not return earlier MarketWatch requests for comment on his plan for addressing infectious-disease outbreaks.
Asked during the debate how he would respond to the coronavirus outbreak, the former vice president vowed to do “what we did with Ebola” in the Obama administration, telling viewers he was part of the effort to ensure that the disease “did not get to the United States.”
Biden would fund the CDC and NIH, he added, and “be on the phone with China and making it clear, we are going to need to be in your country; you have to be open; you have to be clear; we have to know what’s going on.” He said he was the sole Democratic candidate with experience dealing with world leaders.
While Biden has not released a formal plan to address infectious-disease prevention and response, he called Trump “the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge” in a Jan. 27 USA Today op-ed about the coronavirus outbreak, and offered solutions of his own.
If elected, Biden said, he would “reassert U.S. leadership in global health security” and have policies that “always uphold science, not fiction or fearmongering.” He would ask Congress to augment the Public Health Emergency Fund and give him the authority to declare a disaster under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act should an infectious-disease threat warrant it. Biden would also fully fund the Global Health Security Agenda and renew funding for the nationwide hospital network used to isolate and treat infectious-disease patients.
“I will rebuild public trust, make sure we have dedicated resources to help us respond to crises quickly, and better harness the capabilities of the private sector to protect the American people,” he wrote. “Our national security requires nothing less.”
The billionaire businessman also criticized Trump’s coronavirus response during the debate.
“The president fired the pandemic specialist in this country two years ago, so there’s nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing,” he said. “He had defunded Centers for Disease Control, CDC, so we don’t have the organization we need. … As you see, the stock market is falling apart because people are really worried and they should be.”
Bloomberg also tweeted Jan. 24 that “the coronavirus outbreak demands our attention,” sharing a New York Times op-ed about how the government should respond.
“With any potential epidemic, our first line of defense are the public health professionals at the CDC — and that’s why it’s important to make sure they are always funded and empowered to do their jobs,” Bloomberg wrote on Twitter.
The Bloomberg campaign did not return earlier MarketWatch requests for comment.
The former South Bend, Ind., mayor mentioned the coronavirus while answering a debate question about foreign policy.
“Right now, some of the biggest threats that we face are not only things like counterterrorism but issues like global health security and the coronavirus, that rely on the ability to listen to scientists, listen to your own intelligence and coordinate with an international community that this president has alienated because his idea of a security strategy is a big wall,” he said.
A spokesman for Buttigieg did not return earlier MarketWatch requests for comment.
This story was originally published Feb. 25, 2020, and has been updated.
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