President Trump on Friday will sign newly approved legislation allocating more than $8 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The disclosure came Thursday from Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Washington state, which has seen at least 70 cases of the virus and at least 11 deaths – more fatalities than anywhere else in the nation.
Pence said Trump will sign the bill in Atlanta, during a visit to the headquarters of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which together with the National Institutes of Health has been leading U.S. efforts to contain the spread of the virus, which is also known as COVID-19.
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Pence has been overseeing the combined efforts, after President Trump appointed him to head a special task force.
The vice president said the efforts by health officials and lawmakers represented the “very best of D.C. coming together, putting the health and wellbeing of the American people first and making nearly $8 billion available not only to federal agencies but to state and local efforts as we confront coronavirus.”
Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed its coronavirus funding bill 96-1, with only Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voting against it.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed its version 415-2, with only Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Ken Buck, R-Colo., voting against the measure.
More than $3 billion is being dedicated to research and development on vaccines, medicines for treatment and diagnostic tests, including $300 million for the government to purchase such drugs from manufacturers at “fair and reasonable” prices to distribute them to those who need it — which is the standard applied in earlier crises like the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak.
In addition, more than $2 billion will help federal, state and local governments prepare for and respond to the coronavirus threat, including $300 million for the CDC’s rapid response fund. Another $1.3 billion would be used to help fight the virus overseas.
Other funds will be allocated toward medical supplies and other preparedness.
During his stop in Washington state, where he participated in a round-table discussion with Gov. Jay Inslee, members of Washington’s congressional delegation, and local officials responding to the outbreak there, Pence sought to reassure the state that the federal government was aware of the seriousness of the problem there.
“As the state of Washington, and the Seattle area in particular, deals with the coronavirus, we’re going to continue to make sure that you have the full support of every agency in the federal government,” Pence said after touring the state’s emergency response center at Camp Murray. “We know you’re the front line.”
Most of the deaths occurring in Washington have been of residents of the Life Care Center, a nursing home in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. Researchers say the virus may have been circulating undetected there for weeks, The Associated Press reported.
Washington’snumber of confirmed cases jumped to 70 from 39 on Thursday, including the first reported death in eastern Washington, Q13 FOX of Seattle reported.
The elderly are considered especially vulnerable to the virus, in part because the body’s immune system tends to weaken during the aging process. The most recent Washington death was a woman in her 90s, Q13 FOX reported.
President Trump praised Pence’s efforts during the president’s appearance on a special town hall broadcast on Fox News.
“Mike Pence is working 20 hours a day or more on this,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
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During the town hall, Trump defended his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying his decision to limit travel from China had averted a broader domestic crisis.
“I think people are viewing us as doing a very good job,” Trump told an audience member who asked about the outbreak response. “This started in China. How it started, is a question. … It’s gonna all work out. Everyone has to be calm.”
Fox News’ Kelly Chernenkoff, Andrew O’Reilly and Gregg Re and The Associated Press contributed to this story.