White House Press Briefing Highlights Zika Worries
SAN JUAN – In the White House’s daily briefing Monday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest began by reading a statement by the National Governors Association on the Zika virus.
“As Congress returns from recess today, the nation’s governors urge the administration and Congress to work together to reach agreement on the appropriate funding levels needed to prepare for and combat the Zika virus. We also ask they act as expeditiously as possible to ensure those funds are available for states, territories and the public at large,” the statement read.
Earnest proceeded to tell reporters that the governors’ concerns are “consistent with the argument that the administration has been making for more than two months now.”
To a question about the status of tests for treatment of the virus, Earnest responded, “What I do know is there our public health professionals have indicated that, if given additional resources, that there’s more that they could do to speed up the development of critical diagnostic tools and speed up the development of a vaccine.”
“So this is an urgent effort that requires a long-term commitment,” he went on. “And those are two things that Congress isn’t very good at. They aren’t very good about acting quickly, and they aren’t very good about making long-term commitments to things.”
In response to: “So you have world health organizations, the CDC, and now the governors and others are saying that this is going to be a pandemic. What are the Republicans saying to you or to the President or to leg affairs here, or whomever, the reasoning as to why they are not making this an urgent issue right now?” Earnest answered he didn’t “think that anybody can offer up a legitimate explanation for why [Republicans] haven’t taken these common-sense steps that we know would enhance the safety and security of the American people.”
“On Zika, given there’s an active current threat from the virus in Puerto Rico, and also, of course, strong ties between that island and many cities and states in the mainland, how much concern is there that the island’s financial situation could contribute to a more full-blown public health crisis there that could affect the mainland? And if and when, or if Congress eventually allocates this money, presumably some of it would go to Puerto Rico, right?” a reporter asked. To which Earnest responded: “Some of the financial turmoil in Puerto Rico is having a negative impact on the public health care system inside of Puerto Rico, and given the fact that there are reported cases of the Zika virus in Puerto Rico, this seems like a pretty bad time for investments in Puerto Rico’s public health system to be cut. Yet that’s exactly what the Puerto Rican government is having to do because they have not been given the restructuring authority that they need by Republicans in Congress.
“So there is a concern about how the interplay between these two issues could have a broader negative impact not just on the 3 million Americans who live in Puerto Rico but potentially on the U.S. mainland as well. So that’s why the administration has prioritized both of these issues – both our efforts to try to address the financial challenges in Puerto Rico, but also to make sure that we are providing the necessary resources to state and local officials across the country to fight the Zika virus in their communities. And, yes, that would include providing resources to the government in Puerto Rico to, for example, more effectively concentrate efforts to fight the mosquito population.”