The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Tuesday that federal funds to fight the Zika virus were nearly exhausted, and that if Congress did not replenish them soon, there would be no money to fight a new outbreak.
As of Friday, the CDC had spent $194 million of the $222 million it was allocated to fight the virus, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the agency. Congress left for its summer recess without approving additional funding. Now that the virus is actively circulating in Florida, Frieden is pressing his case for funding with new urgency.
On Tuesday, Florida officials announced three new Zika cases in Miami-Dade County. One was in Miami Beach, where the virus is already circulating. The state is trying to determine where the other two infections occurred.
The agency has sent about $35 million to Florida, much of which has already been spent, largely on killing mosquitoes. But if Florida has another cluster of Zika cases, or if one was to surface in another state, the agency would not be able to send emergency funds, Frieden said.
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“The cupboard is bare, there’s no way to provide that,” Frieden said at a briefing with health reporters in Washington.
Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff to the Senate majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans in the Senate have scheduled a vote on a $1.1 billion Zika package for Sept. 6, when Congress comes back into session. But Democrats have been blocking consideration of the Republican package because it includes provisions that would ban funding for Planned Parenthood to provide contraception to combat spread of the virus, which can be sexually transmitted.
The issue of funding is urgent, public health experts say, because the Gulf Coast, where the Zika mosquito mostly lives, is only about halfway through peak mosquito season (it will not start to taper off until October), and the chances that the virus could start circulating in Houston or New Orleans are relatively high.