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Trump downplays COVID-19 while major cities report apparent community transmission

by CQ Roll Call staff, CQ News

More COVID-19 cases — More testing could lead to many more detections soon.

President Donald Trump sought to quell fears about the coronavirus Thursday amid spooked stock markets by tweeting that the tally of U.S. cases is low "because of quick action on closing our borders."

But there are concerns that defects in tests produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has led to an artificially low number of reported cases. As many more labs begin receiving tests from federal officials and private manufacturers in the coming days, the number of reported cases could rapidly rise. 

Meanwhile, two major cities reported that coronavirus appears to be circulating in the community. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio tweeted that public health officials could not identify the source of illness in two cases of confirmed COVID-19 in the country's largest city. The patients have no connection to the virus from travel or other individuals diagnosed with the illness. 

San Francisco reported two cases of COVID-19 in patients with no apparent connection to the virus through travel or personal contacts. "We do not know at this point how they were exposed to the virus, which suggests it is spreading in the community," said Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

As of Thursday, the bulk of coronavirus cases reported by the CDC have occurred in patients for whom the origin of their illness is known. But the major caveat is that the department has until this week restricted testing under tight eligibility guidelines amid a limited number of test kits and reports of defects.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on Thursday announced three positive cases of the coronavirus. The patients contracted the virus while traveling overseas.

Meanwhile, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, or HIMSS, canceled their big annual conference in Orlando next week over concerns of the virus and pulling health care workers from the front lines amid the outbreak. The group had recently announced that Trump would be speaking at the health IT event, in coordination with what industry observers expect is the pending release of two big rules on health care interoperability and data blocking.

Supplemental spending bill readied for Trump

Congress on Thursday cleared an $8.3 billion emergency spending package (HR 6074). Trump is expected to sign the measure today. The legislation would provide $7.8 billion in discretionary spending, mainly for Department of Health and Human Services accounts. About $6.5 billion would go to HHS, including $3.1 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to stockpile medical supplies, conduct research and development and help community health clinics.

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