U.S. markets are now fully awake to the fact that the coronavirus is a threat that isn’t going to abate anytime soon, as witnessed this week’s steep sell-off in stocks. The U.S. government can do more to show its eyes are open as well.
The message so far has been that the virus, known as Covid-19, isn’t spreading here and that the risk is low for most Americans. That’s still true. But with cases surging in an growing number of countries, the chances that the disease will develop into a full-blown pandemic are getting higher. Italy’s out-of-nowhere outbreak highlights the fact that the Covid-19 virus seems able to spread quietly and pop up anywhere.
It’s not time to panic. But it is time to prepare by encouraging the public to start changing its behavior, laying the groundwork for a public-health response, and scaling up investment that will help providers catch and treat cases. America’s ability to combat the virus will be held back by flaws in its health-care system and years of under-investment. The sooner the country begins to shore up its defenses, the better chance it has of limiting the toll the virus may take.
How do things stand now?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the primary U.S. organization responsible for dealing with outbreaks, has been battling funding cuts for years, and the Trump administration wants further trims.
The $2.6 billion budgeted in 2020 for an emergency fund dedicated to health disasters will be a drop in the bucket should the disease spread here. Congress can authorize more spending — and a White House spokesman said Monday the administration plans to request emergency funds — but the timing and amount of funding remains uncertain. It’s likely the CDC and other agencies will inevitably be playing catch-up.