White House dramatically scales up U.S. response to ‘unprecedented’ coronavirus

“I want to emphasize the risk to the American public is low,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield at a White House press briefing. “Our goal is to do all we can do to keep it that way.”

The emergency declaration lets the FDA expedite the development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tests in response to the outbreak and unlocks more resources for states.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar described the new announcements as “fairly incremental” given earlier steps that the administration had taken to contain the virus’ spread. CDC earlier Friday imposed a two-week quarantine on 195 U.S. citizens who were evacuated this week to a military base in California — the first such move in more than 50 years.

“This just helps us focus our efforts,” Azar said, adding that officials need to devote public health resources to screening Americans and working to understand the way the virus spreads and its severity.

Officials have confirmed nearly 11,800 cases of the coronavirus in China linked to almost 260 deaths. The virus also has spread to 23 other countries, and the number of U.S. cases increased to seven Friday evening after a California man tested positive following a trip to Wuhan. Scientists have identified 12 individuals around the globe who have contracted the virus but did not travel to China. Public health officials said they have confirmed that the virus can be spread by people who do not show symptoms.

An estimated 2.84 million Chinese nationals visited the United States in 2019 for business, recreation, education and other purposes, according to the Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office. That was down 5 percent from the previous year amid growing trade tensions between the two countries.

Meanwhile, officials are planning to evacuate more Americans next week from the region where the outbreak originated, and officials are considering a mandatory order for all U.S. citizens there to leave, two officials told POLITICO.

The planning for more evacuations is being led by the State Department and supported by HHS, which is handling the medical and other needs of evacuees.

Officials are preparing for the possibility that as many as 1,000 additional Americans will need to be flown out, said one official, beginning as soon as Monday. The officials also cautioned that the situation is rapidly evolving and could change. Asked about legal challenges related to a mandatory evacuation order, an official said the focus was on protecting Americans’ health.

HHS referred questions to the State Department. A State Department spokesperson confirmed that additional evacuations were being planned.

“The Department of State is working with the U.S. Government interagency and [People’s Republic of China] counterparts on staging additional flights for U.S. citizens to return to the United States from Wuhan,” the spokesperson said.

The department urged U.S. citizens in China to enroll the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive the updates on evacuation flights from Wuhan.

CDC officials during an earlier Friday briefing said even individuals who have been exposed to the virus and tested negative may be capable of transmitting it to others and develop symptoms later. “We are facing an unprecedented public health threat,” said CDC official Nancy Messonnier, adding that the latest steps are intended to blunt the effects on the United States.

Some 241 people in the United States have been under investigation for the virus. In addition to the six confirmed cases, 114 people tested negative and 121 are still pending, according to the CDC website. The infant grandson of a Chicago man diagnosed with the virus has developed a fever and is among those being tested, family members told NBC News.

Separately, Delta, American and United announced they are temporarily suspending all flights to China in the wake of the public health warnings, including a State Department “Do Not Travel” advisory issued late Thursday.

Brianna Ehley, Sarah Owermohle and Doug Palmer contributed to this report.