Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration could use the War Powers Act to increase the production of protective medical gear in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,“ Azar said the administration is already using authority under the Defense Production Act to make its orders the top priority for private contractors, specifically for personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks.
He added that the administration would invoke the War Powers Act "if we need to" but would prefer to work cooperatively with private vendors. Many of the supplies are manufactured by foreign companies, particularly in China.
The Trump administration reiterated on Sunday that it is taking the threat of the virus seriously, while also trying to temper any alarmist messaging. Vice President Mike Pence, whom President Donald Trump appointed to lead the administration's coronavirus efforts, announced that the increased availability of testing kits will allow many more people to be tested.
Azar and Pence also said the administration was ready to heighten travel restrictions to contain the virus. Already, China and Iran have high travel barriers, with additional travel advisories in place for South Korea and Italy. Azar said he is not ruling out increasing restrictions for South Korea and Italy, but cited those countries' robust health care systems and close cooperation with the United States as why they have not been subjected to more severe barriers.
Trump has come under fire for downplaying the severity of the outbreak, telling reporters the risk is low for most Americans and using it as a political chip to castigate his Democratic rivals.
Azar said wider spread of the disease is inevitable but that it is important to have an honest understanding of the crisis.
"The president is also trying to keep balance and messaging, so that the American people don't engage in unwarranted panic," Azar said.