Overview of U.S. Domestic Response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

Publication Date: February 2020

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Author(s): Audrey Singer; Sarah A. Lister; Kavya Sekar; Agata Dabrowska

Research Area: Government; Health

Keywords: coronavirus; outbreak; infectious disease

Type: Report


On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.1 Illnesses have since been linked to a previously unidentified strain of coronavirus, designated 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. As of February 7, 2020, tens of thousands of people have been infected and over 500 have died, mostly in China. 2 The disease has spread to several other countries, including the United States. On January 30, 2020, the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).3 The next day, on January 31, 2020, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency pursuant to Public Health Service Act (PHSA) Section 319, retroactively dated to January 27, 2020.4 As the scope of the epidemic widens in China, as of early February, U.S health officials continue to state that the immediate health risk from the new virus to the general American public is low.5 With the situation rapidly changing, both WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) post frequent updates.6 This report discusses selected actions taken by the federal government to quell the introduction and spread of 2019-nCoV in the United States. The HHS Secretary has taken several specific actions to address the 2019-nCoV threat. While some of these actions are based in generally applicable authorities of the Secretary, other authorities may be contingent upon the Secretary or another federal official making a determination or declaration, specific to that authority, regarding the existence of a public health emergency or threat. Each of the actions taken by the Secretary, its statutory basis, and any distinct declarations and determinations supporting the action is presented in this report.