WASHINGTON — As the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is working to make sure the United States is prepared to handle coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control said it's no longer a question of if the COVID-19 virus spreads to the United States but when.
“No question this is a homeland security issue to keep us safe from the coronavirus," said Peters. "Right now we’re focusing on keeping our borders as secure as possible."
More than 88,000 people around the world have been infected with the novel coronavirus. The majority of those have been reported in China, and the infections have led to 2,600 deaths.
"The Chinese government has shut down many of the areas where this coronavirus is widespread," said Peters. "But we need to provide a second layer of defense at our border."
The senator said people traveling into the United States are being screened to determine if they need to be monitored and quarantined. In Michigan, health officials said over the weekend that about 325 people are currently being monitored for the virus. They all either traveled to China in the past two weeks or were on a cruise ship with a confirmed case of the virus.
"The challenge of this virus now is that you may have the virus and you may not have any symptoms, yet you may be contagious," said Peters. "So it is important to identify those folks who may not have symptoms. But still we need to be concerned and make sure they are separated from the general population until we can be sure they haven’t been infected."
People who are being monitored are being contacted daily by local health officials to check and see if they have developed any symptoms.
Peters also said he has been working with the Trump administration to ensure the United States has the resources to deal with a potential coronavirus outbreak. The White House said Monday it was preparing an urgent budget request to address the virus.
"We have to do things like make sure we have medical equipment stockpiled, as simple as masks and gloves to prevent the movement of this virus. We need to start making those preparations now," said Peters.
Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Peters' Michigan colleague, issued a statement Tuesday saying she is concerned about the White House's request for emergency funding.
"I am deeply concerned that President Trump has no plan to fight the serious coronavirus crisis. President Trump’s funding request to address coronavirus is overdue and inadequate," the statement read in part. "We need real leadership from the White House to work on a bipartisan basis to keep our loved ones safe and prevent the global spread of this disease."
In the U.S., 57 people have been infected. The CDC categorized these infections into separate categories: 14 have been infected in travel-related incidents and 43 infections were among individuals repatriated in the U.S.
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