REUTERS — U.S. government military laboratories are working to develop a vaccine for the fast-spreading coronavirus, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday.
“The military labs are in fact working very consistently, not only on that vaccine but all kinds of things,” General Mark Milley said at a Pentagon briefing. “So we’ll see how that develops over the next couple of months.”
He said one of the labs was in Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Top U.S. health officials have said any vaccine is up to 18 months away and there is no treatment for the respiratory disease, although patients can receive supportive care.
Protective gear and test kits are being distributed to U.S. military facilities with a priority on distribution to the Korean Peninsula, Milley said. South Korea reported 599 new cases on Monday, taking its national tally to 4,335. There have been 26 deaths.
The number of coronavirus cases in the United States has ticked up in recent days, with more than 75 confirmed cases including two reported deaths.
Authorities across the United States prepared for more cases of illness caused by the new coronavirus with the emphasis on ratcheting up the number of available test kits.
Why the military wants a coronavirus vaccine so badly
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state has one confirmed case, welcomed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing New York to test for the virus that has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide since it emerged in China in December.
“I would like to have a goal of 1,000 tests per day capacity within one week because again the more testing the better,” Cuomo said at a briefing on Monday.
Federal government health officials have said the number of test kits for coronavirus would be radically expanded in coming weeks. The United States appeared poised for a spike in cases, partly because there would be more testing to confirm infections.
President Donald Trump said on Monday that his administration has asked pharmaceutical companies to accelerate work on the development of a coronavirus vaccine, but provided no details.
Trump and his task force on the outbreak will meet with drug company executives on Monday. Executives from GlaxoSmithKline Kline Plc, Sanofi SA, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc will attend the meeting, according to representatives for the companies.
The meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. and Vice President Mike Pence will have a public briefing on the virus response at 5 p.m.
The White House is also expected to meet this week with top executives from U.S. airlines and the cruise industry over the impact of the virus to their businesses, two people briefed on the matter said.
75 confirmed cases, two deaths in the United States
The number of coronavirus cases in the United States has ticked up in recent days, with more than 75 confirmed cases including two reported deaths, both in Washington state where a cluster of cases is centered on a nursing home near Seattle.
There have been more than 87,000 cases globally and nearly 3,000 deaths in 60 countries, according to the World Health Organization. The global death toll was up to 3,044, according to a Reuters tally.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the infectious diseases unit at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said he was concerned the number of U.S. cases could jump in coming weeks.
“When you have a number of cases that you’ve identified and they’ve been in the community for a while, you’re going to wind up seeing a lot more cases than you would have predicted,” he told CNN in an interview on Monday.
Wash your hands
Public health officials have urged common sense steps to prevent contracting and spreading the virus, such as frequent hand-washing and staying home when sick.
Trump administration officials over the weekend sought to soothe nerves and calm fears that a global recession was looming because the coronavirus had disrupted the economies of China and other countries. Italy and South Korea are among the countries hardest hit by coronavirus.
World stock markets, after a week-long slide, on Monday regained a measure of calm amid hope of a possible stimulus, while U.S. stocks also opened higher.
“There’ll be more cases, but we’re working very closely with state and local health officials,” Pence told Fox Business News. He added that the administration was adding resources and would work with Congress, which is expected to take up a spending measure in coming days that could allocate billions more dollars for the virus response.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali, Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, Lisa lambert, Makini Brice and David Morgan in Washington, Michael Erman and Caroline Humer in New York; writing by Grant McCool; editing by Franklin Paul, Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot)