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Efforts to fight the new coronavirus may get a $136 million infusion of funds, the Department of Health and Human Services said Monday.
The department notified Congress Sunday it could later this month transfer funds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other areas of the agency working to prevent an outbreak of the virus in the U.S., an HHS spokeswoman said.
The notification was made “out of an abundance of caution” to make sure the HHS could respond rapidly, Katie McKeogh, an HHS spokeswoman, said. The disease is expanding rapidly in China, she said, and with more cases being identified in the U.S. the agency is unable to predict how much money it will need in coming weeks.
HHS can shift the funds 15 days after it notifies Congress.
The move highlights how quickly the coronavirus response costs could escalate. Officials tapped $105 million from an emergency fund last week, and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) told reporters Jan. 29 she didn’t see a supplemental spending measure as necessary yet.
There are 11 confirmed cases as of Monday in the U.S. of the a novel coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, according to the CDC. There are thousands of confirmed cases in China.
The agency told congressional offices it would move as much as $75 million to the CDC, as much as $52 million to the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and as much as $8 million to Office of Global Affairs, according to a person familiar with the request.
HHS didn’t identify what accounts they are transferring from, the person said.
A Down Payment
The additional funding would have to come from existing pots of money within the HHS, said Chris Meekins, former deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response in the department. Typically, those funds have come out of the National Institutes of Health or the CDC.
“This will probably be a down payment on what will be needed to address this issue for the long-term,” Meekins, a health-care policy research analyst at Raymond James, said.
Asking for this funding is a preemptive measure to make sure the HHS has what it needs to address the outbreak, Meekins said.
The CDC has quickly run through the $100 million it has now, Meekins said. They have and will continue to use the funds for quarantining patients, running labs, and tracking the disease both in the U.S. and China.
The HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response has been brought in to assist with coordinating care for people repatriated from Wuhan on government-sponsored flights and making sure there are enough resources in the national stockpile and local facilities if the outbreak spreads, Meekins said.
The HHS now has the authority to fund development of new diagnostic tests, antivirals, and repurposing existing treatments through the private sector. The question is if they choose to do so, as with Ebola and Zika, Meekins said.