States to get test kits as White House amps up virus effort

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a Florida Coronavirus Response Meeting, at the West Palm Beach International Airport, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal health officials scrambled Friday to get coronavirus testing up and running in every state, as the Trump administration signaled it may also invoke a 70-year-old defense law to guarantee the availability of protective gear should the virus spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said two more Americans tested positive for the virus out of the group of quarantined passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Health officials in California, Oregon and Washington state worried about the virus spreading through West Coast communities after confirming three patients were infected by unknown means.

The World Health Organization upgraded the risk level from the virus to “very high” as it continued to spread around the globe. Friday evening, the State Department issued an advisory telling Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Italy, which has seen nearly 900 cases. A travel advisory already is in place for China.

Two days after the White House abruptly shifted gears from President Donald Trump's initial assurances of minimal U.S. fallout to an all-out mobilization under Vice President Mike Pence, the administration's messaging still wasn't completely seamless.

Trump administration political appointees and nonpartisan career government scientists both agree that the current risk to Americans is low, although that could quickly change. But some political officials are continuing to offer assurances that concerns will blow over soon, while the scientists are emphasizing preparations for circumstances as yet unknown.

“I acknowledge that this could change. I acknowledge the situation could deteriorate. I acknowledge the risks,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters Friday. “But, given what we know ... looks to me like the market has gone too far.”

Financial markets continued to slide, with the Dow Jones average suffering its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.