Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday defended the US administration’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic after the first confirmed death on American soil and rising criticism of the state of US preparedness.
Pence and Health Secretary Alex Azar made the rounds of Sunday talk shows with the message that risks from the disease remain low for most Americans, while promising to make up for testing shortfalls.
“We could have more sad news, but the American people should know the risk to the average American remains low,” Pence said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The assurances came a day after officials confirmed that two men had died in the northwestern state of Washington after becoming infected with the virus.
The first was a man in his 50s, with no known contact with persons infected abroad. The second was a man in his 70s. Both had “underlying health issues,” according to the public health officials.
Azar told “Fox News Sunday” the man in his 50s was in a hospital to which a nursing home, hit by a coronavirus outbreak, had sent patients.
“So right now there’s a large investigation going on in the nursing home, the hospital, contact tracing to try to determine where that disease was introduced and how it might have spread,” he said.
The United States has had at least 70 confirmed coronavirus cases in all, including 47 patients who were repatriated from virus hotspots in Asia and quarantined for 14 days on their return, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pence put the number of cases among repatriated Americans at 46.
More than 20 other people have been infected in the United States, including the first case in New York state confirmed on Sunday — a woman who had travelled to Iran. She was described as not being in a serious condition.
Genetic analysis suggests the novel coronavirus had probably been spreading undetected for about six weeks in Washington state, The New York Times reported.