Senators question health officials on coronavirus plans

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Health experts testified before a Senate committee Tuesday, laying out the latest facts on the coronavirus.

The virus, which originated in China and has infected tens of thousands of people there, has now spread to nearly every continent. More than 100 cases have been confirmed in the United States.

“People in my area scared,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said.

Her state is the only one in the nation that has recorded coronavirus deaths. Nine people there had died of the infection as of Tuesday afternoon.

“If someone at the White House or in this administration is actually in charge of responding to the coronavirus, it would be news to anybody in my state,” Murray said.

She said providing states with reliable testing equipment will help stop the spread, speeding up the process because state officials won’t have to send suspected cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn promised that kits for up to 1 million tests will go out to states by the end of the week.

National Institute of Health Director Anthony Fauci said while it will likely be more than a year before a vaccine is available, drugs to treat the virus should be ready soon.

“We should know in a period of a few months, several months, whether or not this particular drug works,” Fauci said. “If it does, the implantation of that would be almost immediate.”

Murray said she fears low-income workers or those without health insurance will be forced to keep working when they are sick, perhaps making them more susceptible to contracting and spreading the illness.

Republicans say health officials from the Trump administration are doing a good job.

“All of you should take a bow,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said.

Still, he said he hopes that with the passage of a multibillion-dollar emergency package, vulnerable rural communities will get the help they need to combat the virus.

Congress is expected to approve that funding by the end of the week.

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