Today, in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed concern over how the U.S. government has mobilized to combat the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), including how the Administration is communicating with state, local and federal officials, and Americans impacted by the virus. In his letter, Sen. Warner urged the Vice President to devote the resources, expertise and manpower needed to prevent this virus from spreading while also improving the government’s communication with Congress and the American public.
“I am concerned that the Administration’s response to date has not been aggressive enough to effectively combat the virus and fails to underscore the threat posed by this virus,” wrote Sen. Warner. “I have been deeply frustrated with the U.S. government’s communication with Congress, my constituents and their family members impacted by the virus, and the American people more broadly. I understand that individuals at the State Department, including in embassies around the world, the CDC and other federal agencies, have been working around the clock. Yet despite this flurry of efforts, the U.S. government has not established an effective communication plan that tracks specific cases and communicates out guidance to individuals, their family members and Congressional offices working to get them help. Nor has it effectively pushed back on disinformation around the coronavirus or given adequate information to the American public.”
“Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, I have been in frequent communication with a number of Virginians, who were traveling in Asia and were unable to return home,” he continued. “The U.S. government’s task force was unable to provide these folks with basic information on a timely basis about what they could expect for the next 24 hours and how they could be medically cleared. Questions such as where they would sleep the following night, whether they should book a hotel or flight, and how they could be reunited with their spouses in country, went unanswered for far too long. In addition, my office, despite repeated outreach to numerous government entities, struggled to get the basic information these constituents needed. This process was opaque, time-consuming and ultimately unsatisfactory for my constituents. We must do better. We need to put better systems in place, especially as the virus continues to spread.”
To date, coronavirus has sickened more than 90,000 people around the world, killing more than 3,000 individuals. In the U.S., 88 cases of the virus have been confirmed and there have been two fatalities.
In his letter, Sen. Warner also emphasized the need for a government response that includes, at a minimum, a request for emergency funds from Congress, and an established communications strategy to ensure that government officials and the American public have the latest information they need to remain prepared and safe.
Earlier this month, Sen. Warner asked the Administration to redirect available public health funds to combat the virus and to inform Congress of any additional resources that are needed. The Administration has since requested $2.5 billion in emergency funds – an amount far below what most public health experts believe is needed to adequately prepare and respond to the virus. Congressional appropriators from both parties are currently working to negotiate and draft an emergency funding package to combat the coronavirus, which the Senate is expected to take up in the coming days.