The NCSL Blog


By Haley Nicholson, Margaret Wile, Kate Bradford and Noah Cruz

In the midst of flu season, the news over the past few weeks has been dominated by a new virus known as the coronavirus. The outbreak of the virus originated in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China. The virus also known as 2019-nCoV, has been compared to as a less severe pathogen than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

A Wisconsin resident was exposed to multiple people infected with a novel coronavirus in Beijing.(PENG ZIYANG/XINHUA VIA GETTY IMAGES)To date there have been nearly 52,000 reported cases of coronavirus and more than 1,600 deaths globally. Twelve cases have been confirmed in the U.S, with the most recent case reported in Wisconsin.

The World Health Organization has agreed to work with China and international partners to help scientists study the virus—its incubation period, symptoms and other aspects—to better understand the outbreak and how to best implement a global response. 

The Trump administration has declared a public health emergency and several federal agencies have been involved in the U.S. response to the outbreak. The public health emergency prompted the quarantine of 195 U.S. citizens who returned from Wuhan; they will be monitored over the next few weeks.

The president also signed an order temporarily barring entry to foreign nationals who have visited China and who could pose a risk of spreading the illness, unless they are immediate relatives of permanent residents. All flights from China will be funneled through several designated U.S. airports.

Any U.S. citizens returning from the Hubei Province will be required to do a mandatory quarantine while Americans returning from other parts of mainland China will have to undergo screening and monitored self-quarantine. Self-quarantine requires individuals to stay at home for up to two weeks upon return to the U.S. and monitor any symptoms they may have. The U.S. State Department also issued its highest level do-not-travel advisory for China and has advised those currently in the country to leave, as American citizens could be subject to travel restrictions with little advance notice.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced he will use $105 million of the agency’s Infectious Disease Rapid Response Fund to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. While U.S. health officials say the risk of Americans contracting the virus remains low, there is much unknown about the virus, and they want to ensure a safe response as the situation evolves.

Scientists are working to create a vaccine against the coronavirus. Stakeholders have cautioned while developments are more rapid than other outbreaks in the past, there are many factors to consider whenever developing a new vaccine.

In Congress, the House Energy and Commerce Committee members received a briefing on coronavirus with officials from: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health, HHS and the Food and Drug Administration. HHS Secretary Azar notified Congress the department may need to transfer $136 million to address the virus and the response needed because the initial $105 million set aside is being spent down. The funding would help fulfill the needs of several federal agencies that are dealing with addressing the virus.

State Response

As the federal government leads the national response to 2019-nCoV, state and local health departments stand on the front lines.

State health officials continue to work with the CDC, federal authorities and other health agencies to ensure proactive and collaborative measures. State lawmakers may direct constituents to local, state and federal health resources to keep everyone informed. In addition, some states are taking extra steps to respond to or anticipate the spread of this virus.

With six confirmed cases in the state, California activated the Department of Public Health’s Emergency Response Operations Center in January to coordinate efforts across the state. Massachusetts, which has one confirmed case, introduced legislation that would appropriate $95,000 for the surveillance, treatment, containment or prevention of coronavirus. In a press release on Wednesday, after the state’s first case was confirmed, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) noted risk to the general public in Wisconsin remains low. DHS, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, the local health department and CDC are working together to monitor those with close contact with the patient and to prevent transmission.

Proactively, states without confirmed cases are preparing. On Feb. 3, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services activated its Community Health Emergency Coordination Center to support public health agencies and health care providers. Additionally, through an executive order, Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey established a “Coronavirus Task Force” to better prepare the state to respond to the outbreak despite having no reported cases.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. Stay up to date using CDC’s 2019 Novel Coronavirus webpage and the national, state and local resources below. For current information in your state, check your state health department webpage.

Additional Resources

Haley Nicholson is senior policy director and Margaret Wile is policy director in NCSL's Health and Human Service Program in NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division. Kate Bradford and Noah Cruz are research analysts in NCSL's Health Program.

Email Haley.

Email Tahra Johnson.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.