Now that major clusters of the Covid-19 coronavirus have appeared in Iran, South Korea and Italy, U.S. public health experts have concluded that there is no longer any doubt that the virus will spread in the United States.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, put it this way in a press conference Tuesday: "It's not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses. Disruption to everyday life might be severe."

The public and investors are convinced. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll Tuesday found that 55% of respondents expect the virus to be a major problem in the United States. And financial markets already have fallen substantially over the last several days.

To best protect public health and to build public confidence in the economy's ability to withstand the potential epidemic, Congress should ensure that the government's effort to respond to the virus is funded to the degree necessary.

The Department of Health and Human Services has asked for $2.5 billion, but that was greeted with bipartisan skepticism for several reasons. First, the largely successful response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, including the development of an effective vaccine, cost

$5 billion. And the Trump administration's proposed budget includes major budget reductions for the CDC.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, suggested during a hearing Tuesday that the administration had "lowballed" its request. All lawmakers should join him in ensuring that the federal response is adequate to the task.

The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.