Sen. Pat Roberts

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, right, speaks at a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The panel asked federal health officials about the nation’s response to the coronavirus. At left is Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

Americans have concerns about the public health emergency surrounding coronavirus, and Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts finds nothing in Washington politics to ease those worries.

“There’s a lot of partisan elbows out there right now. We don’t need to politicize a pandemic,” he said Tuesday. “Maybe we ought to quarantine people for 14 days (until) they just shut up about the politics and the partisan things. We can do better.”

The Republican lawmaker made the remark at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The session called together some of the federal government’s top medical experts to speak about the current state of the spreading coronavirus.

A committee member, Roberts said he favors congressional approval of necessary funding to combat the illness (“The president said, ‘Whatever figure you give me, I’ll take it.’”) and distribution of sufficient testing kits to diagnose and track the impact of the virus.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, said he had one goal for the hearing, “accurate information,” and he praised the panelists for their years of experience in dealing with crises such as Ebola, SARS, AIDS and influenza outbreaks.

“For these professionals, this is not their first rodeo,” Alexander said.

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Patty Murray, spoke from the perspective of representing a state, Washington, where nine people have died from coronavirus.

“It’s unacceptable that people in my state and nationwide can’t even get an answer as to whether or not they are infected,” Murray said at the hearing. “If someone at the White House or in this administration is actually in charge of responding to the coronavirus, it would be news to anybody in my state.”

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said her agency has “acted nimbly” in dealing with the virus. She urged people to frequent the website www.cdc.gov to get the latest and most accurate information.

“We’re using evidence-based public-health interventions that have included early case recognitions, isolation and contact tracing,” she said. “We’ve issued travel advisories and dealt with targeted travel restrictions as well as the use of quarantine for individuals returning from transmission hot zones.”

Roberts questioned Schuchat about the terminology “community spread” that might mislead the public about the virus. The CDC official said the term means to differentiate the spread of the virus from that of transmission by close contact.

“It doesn’t mean the whole community is affected,” Schuchat said.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal health programs, spoke on the chamber’s floor Tuesday, urging the passage of an emergency funding bill to address the health crisis.

“As we learned with Ebola, patient zero, who doesn’t know they even have this yet, can board a plane or a cruise ship. They can be in another country, or in even another continent, in a matter of hours,” the Republican senator said.

“And this lesson is once again reinforced. This is like all other diseases, it doesn’t know any boundaries. We’re no longer living in a world where our health can be separated from the health of other countries.”

Ken Newton can be reached at ken.newton@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.