Silicon Valley leaders react to coronavirus threat as Congress reaches $8.3B funding agreement
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2020. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, as the number of coronavirus cases in the state continues to rise, including in Santa Clara County — where health officials confirmed there are three new cases of the virus within county limits, bringing the total cases to 14.

While the state of emergency helps state officials mobilize resources, Congressional leaders also announced Wednesday their efforts to help address the crisis. Lawmakers in Washington reached an agreement for $8.3 billion of funding to address the novel coronavirus, more than triple the amount that the White House had requested.

Today officials in Placer County announced the first death in California linked to the coronavirus.

“While most cases of COVID-19 exhibit mild or moderate symptoms, this tragic death underscores the urgent need for us to take extra steps to protect residents who are particularly vulnerable to developing more serious illness, including elderly persons and those with underlying health conditions,” read their statement.

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday discussed measures to prepare a pandemic response at the request of Mayor Sam Liccardo. In a memo, the mayor asked city administrators to report on efforts to potentially activate San Jose’s emergency operations center, coordinate with the county to communicate the threat to the public and possibly even cancel public gatherings at City Hall.

No immediate actions were taken Tuesday, though the mayor stressed the importance of preparation “in anticipation of a potentially larger report of infections in the days ahead.” City leaders are preparing for a stage four response, according to city documents.

A snapshot from San Jose’s COVID-19 presentation shown at a City Council meeting on March 3 shows the different levels of response to the virus.

Dr. Sara Cody, director of the Santa Clara County Health department, advised those at a higher risk try to avoid mass gatherings where large numbers of people are within arms length of one another, emphasizing that this does not include offices or groceries. She also advised organizations that primarily serve older people cancel any future planned gatherings.

“The risk of severe illness increases with age. The risk begins to increase after about age 50 and accelerates with increasing age,” Cody said during a news conference Tuesday.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill with supplemental funding for COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, sending it over to the Senate. Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, lauded the agreement.

“We worked together to craft an aggressive and comprehensive response that provides the resources the experts say they need to combat this crisis,” he said. “I thank my colleagues for their cooperation and appreciate President Trump’s eagerness to sign this legislation and get the funding out the door without delay.”

The deal includes $1 billion for the CDC to help state and local governments, half of which will be distributed within 30 days. Each state is slated to receive no less than $4 million.

“I think most of the people who’ve briefed us fully expect that this will continue to transmit and that we will have a sort of a pandemic level situation on our hands so we need to do everything we can to support the locals,” said San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

On Friday, Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna released a statement urging for almost double what the current deal provides.

“We need to mobilize $15 billion to push for widespread, free testing available to all Americans + research for a vaccine and anti-viral treatments,” tweeted Khanna.

One of the members of the White House coronavirus task force indicated Wednesday that authorities are working as quickly as they can on a vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that he expects experts to begin phase one of vaccine trials in six months.

“It would take then about a year to a year and a half to be fully confident that we would have a vaccine that will be able to protect the American people,” Fauci said.

Vice President Mike Pence says the White House has directed the CDC to allow anyone in the U.S. who wants to get tested, at the direction of their doctor, to receive the test.

“We do have about 1.5 million test kits going out as we speak, to hospitals, particularly hospitals in areas that have seen coronavirus cases,” Pence said on Wednesday afternoon. “Now every state health lab and university lab can conduct a coronavirus test.”

But it’s still unclear where and when the tests will become widely available.

Santa Clara County’s health department is providing health care providers with a phone number to call if they need to send specimen to the CDC for testing, but has not said whether there are any labs in the county prepared to conduct tests.

Despite the growing concern, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith assured residents on Tuesday that while he wants people to be aware, but “now is not the time to panic.”

Contact Elizabeth Mendez at elizabeth.ambriz@gmail.com or follow @izziemae on Twitter.

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