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U.S. State Department officials and a top U.S. health official are set to testify before Congress on Thursday to update the public on the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 82,500 and killed at least 2,810 overseas so far.
The U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation will host the hearing. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is due to testify as is Ian Brownlee, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs in the State Department.
Other State Department officials, including Jonathan Fritz, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Dr. William Walters, executive director of the Bureau of Medical Services, will speak about the international response to the outbreak.
The virus, named COVID-19, has shuttered commerce across much of China and is hitting company earnings, global stock markets and manufacturing across the world. The Trump administration last month declared the virus a public health emergency in the United States. The declaration came with travel restrictions and mandatory federal quarantine orders for Americans returning from the epicenter of the outbreak in China.
The CDC confirmed late Wednesday the first possible community transmission — one in which the infected person has no travel history or contacts that would put them at risk — in the U.S., a troubling sign that the virus could be spreading undetected. That case brings the total number of cases in the U.S. to 60, most of which are people who were evacuated from Wuhan, China, or the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan.
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday evening that Vice President Mike Pence will now lead the U.S. response to the outbreak. The announcement came after the CDC stepped up its call Tuesday for the public to start preparing for a possible pandemic outbreak in the U.S.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad,” a top CDC official told reporters in a conference call outlining what schools and businesses will likely need to do if the COVID-19 virus starts to spread throughout the U.S.