The House has taken the first step in providing a huge infusion of money to cope with detecting and treating the coronavirus, codenamed COVID-19.
By an overwhelming 415-2 vote late Wednesday, lawmakers approved $8.3 billion in emergency funds, some of which will go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health agencies.
The shape of the final package was the subject of intense negotiations ahead of the vote. It includes about $3 billion for research into potential vaccines and another $2.2 billion for prevention and preparedness efforts.
The Trump administration initially asked for $2.5 billion, but Senate Democrats argued that more was needed. At a news conference last week, President Trump said he would accept as much money as Congress was willing to authorize.
The next stop for the funding bill is the Senate, where a speedy vote is expected. President Trump could sign the legislation before the end of the week.
So far, 11 people in the U.S. have died from complications of the coronavirus, all of them elderly and with other health problems. More than 3,100 deaths have occurred outside the U.S., mostly in China.
Washington state hard hit
Ten of the U.S. fatalities are in Washington State, where an assisted living facility suffered an outbreak from contact with someone who had traveled to Wuhan, China. The eleventh fatality was in the Los Angeles area.
The CDC says there are at least 138 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Wednesday evening. Health officials in Los Angeles reported six new cases over the last two days, resulting in a declaration of a health emergency.
Kathryn Barger, chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor, denied that the county had succumbed to panic. She said the measure allows local health officials greater access to resources from the federal and state governments.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, appearing on CNBC, said it’s likely that there are “thousands” of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. He says they haven’t been detected because of a lack of testing.