Lawmakers question U.S. public health agency about coronavirus threat

Coronavirus - What you need to know

Lawmakers are calling for answers from a public health agency about how they are preparing to fight the Coronavirus here in the United States.

At least 17 deaths worldwide have been linked to the virus and the first case was confirmed in the U.S. in Washington state this week.

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It has led to travel restrictions and a city in China was placed under quarantine.

"I have big concerns,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said.

Brown said the outbreak of the virus points to the need for more funding for agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Human beings are in an arms race if you will with bacteria and viruses," Brown said. "There is something like this every year. It's Ebola. It's tuberculosis. Now it's the Coronavirus. There will be another thing."

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts each wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking about how the CDC is responding to the threat of the virus.

Scientists are working on developing a vaccine for the virus, but it will take some time.

“We should be able to put that vaccine into phase one trial for safety in about three months,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.

Fauci said it would likely not be available for public distribution for another year.

Fauci pointed out while health officials are being vigilant, the risk to Americans is low.

"This is an evolving situation,” Fauci said. “Clearly this is something that we take very, very seriously. So we want to balance taking something very seriously without instilling fear or anxiety in the American public."

The CDC said it has alerted doctors to be on the lookout for signs of the Coronavirus and said the agency is developing a diagnostic test to be able to detect the virus.

Meanwhile, UPMC is building hospitals in China and has six employees there now, but a spokesperson told Channel 11 none are in the affected area.

You can read the full statement from UPMC below:

“As with all emerging infectious diseases that cause global health concerns, UPMC is staying informed of developments with the coronavirus and taking proper precautions to enable us to quickly and safely triage anyone with the disease, should they arrive at any of our facilities. These efforts include briefings with our local, state and federal public health authorities; travel screening alerts at our clinical facilities to help staff identify patients potentially at risk for having contracted the disease, such as those with recent travel from China; instructions for proper infection prevention procedures; and drills with public health and emergency officials on proper protocol for transporting, quarantining and caring for patients with concerning infections. Our community can be reassured that UPMC facilities and staff are well-equipped to properly care for patients with contagious diseases without exposing other patients, staff or visitors.”