Trump taps VP Pence to lead U.S. coronavirus response

White House
President Donald Trump tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the United States' coronavirus response. (AndrewSoundarajan/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

In public statements, President Donald Trump has played down the threat posted to the U.S. by the novel coronavirus even as health officials have urged caution and the need to prepare. Now, the White House has selected Vice President Mike Pence to lead the United States' response.

The decision came after the White House reportedly considered naming a coronavirus "czar," with former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb under consideration. But since Pence is already part of the administration, Trump said he's not a "czar," Politico reports. On Thursday, Pence said Dr. Debbie Birx would lead the response and report to him.

Birx, an HIV/AIDS expert, is a U.S. special representative for global health diplomacy. 

In recent days, multiple countries have reported their first cases of the novel coronavirus, and the outbreak continues spreading in countries including Iran, Italy and South Korea. On Tuesday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official warned about a likely spread of the virus throughout the U.S. Also This week, U.S. officials recorded the first case in the country without a known origin, suggesting the virus is already spreading in America.

RELATED: Coronavirus tracker: CDC expects 'community spread' in the U.S.; Trump hosting press conference tonight 

Meanwhile, Trump has maintained that the outbreak is under control. In a tweet Tuesday, the president said the administration has done a “great job of handling” the situation. His statements have run into pushback from lawmakers and Democratic presidential candidates. 

Despite not being selected as coronavirus czar, Gottlieb is still involved. He tweeted that now is the time to act to fight the virus. 

Aside from the government’s response, the biopharma industry is involved in researching drugs and vaccines that might be able to fight the novel coronavirus. Drugmakers such as Johnson & Johnson, Gilead, AbbVie, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have either started or are participating in research efforts, and smaller biotechs are also testing their own technology.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Trump selected Pence to lead the U.S. coronavirus response.