Administration downplays coronavirus risk as markets tank and health officials scramble

Noam N. Levey and Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- Trump administration officials stepped up efforts Friday to downplay dangers from the global coronavirus outbreak amid mounting public anxiety, another sharp drop in the stock market, and questions about the federal government's response to the public health threat.

"The immediate risk to the American public remains low," Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on a conference call with reporters.

On Tuesday, Messonnier, who directs the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, had warned that it was inevitable that more Americans would contract the virus, much to the chagrin of senior White House officials.

But Friday, she stressed that the CDC was aggressively tracing contacts of Americans sickened by the virus, including the California woman hospitalized at UC Davis Medical Center, who neither traveled overseas nor had any known contact with people who did.

Messonnier also promised that coronavirus testing kits are being distributed nationally after weeks of delay caused by flaws discovered in the existing tests.

"We have been testing aggressively," she said.


The apparent lack of testing preparations has sharply limited how many Americans have been evaluated for coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, feeding worries that the disease may be far more widespread in this country than is currently known.

As of Thursday evening, only 459 coronavirus tests had been administered nationwide, according to the CDC. There have been 15 confirmed cases, not including people who returned to the U.S. via State Department-chartered flights.

The limited testing has fueled intense criticism of the administration from public health experts and lawmakers.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., sent a letter to federal health authorities urging them to expand and expedite coronavirus testing, citing an apparent delay in how quickly the patient at UC Davis Medical Center was tested.


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