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Shelby: Administration is “lowballing” the cost of the coronavirus

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Tuesday, the Trump Administration asked the Congress for an additional $2.5 billion for planning for a possible coronavirus outbreak in the United States. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) accused the administration of “lowballing” the actual cost.

Shelby is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

“It seems to me at the outset that this request for the money, the supplemental, is lowballing it, possibly, and you can’t afford to do that,” Shelby told HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday during a hearing on the agency’s budget request. “If you lowball something like this, you’ll pay for it later.”

Shelby told reporters afterward he doesn’t have a new number in mind but that it will be “higher” than the $2.5 billion requested by HHS.

Azar said the administration would work with Congress if lawmakers think more money is needed.

“We’ll be of the mindset to fund this crisis, not to underfund it in any way, and I hope this administration would look at this as something they cannot afford to let get out of hand,” Azar said.

The Trump administration’s request includes $1.25 billion in new funding. The rest to be taken from existing health programs, including $535 million from fighting Ebola. Coronaviruses are a normal occurrence throughout the animal kingdom. This virus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in December. It is believed that the disease originally existed in bats, which are a food source in China. Since then over 80,000 people have contracted the illness in 37 countries and over 2,700 have died. Researchers are referring to this strain of the coronavirus as COVID-19.

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that at that point it appears that it is inevitable that the virus will come to America.

“Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The U.S. currently has 57 cases of COVID-19. 40 of those are Americans who were former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. On Friday, the administration suggested that some of those infected Americans could be treated at a federal facility in Anniston. A plan that local officials and the Alabama Congressional delegation both urged the administration to reject.

On Sunday, Shelby said, “I just got off the phone with the President. He told me that his administration will not be sending any victims of the Coronavirus from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to Anniston, Alabama. Thank you,
@POTUS, for working with us to ensure the safety of all Alabamians.”

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” Messonnier said. “We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”

Channel 42 TV is reporting that the UAB Health System is making preparations for the coronavirus by purchasing additional equipment and training staff in how to deal with the infectious disease which devastated medical professionals in Hubei Province.

(Original reporting by the Hill, Web MD, and Channel 42 News contributed to this report.)

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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