Yesterday, members of Congress remembered they are obligated to, like, do stuff, when they narrowly avoided a government shutdown by agreeing to allocate $1.1 billion to fight Zika.
Initially, the bill was held up thanks to language that would bar funds from Planned Parenthood, since any effort to boost women's healthcare is akin to slaughtering schoolchildren on national television. (Note that the actual slaughter of schoolchildren fails to prompt any Congressional action.) But yesterday the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 72-26, and later in the day the House of Representatives approved it 342-85, narrowly averting a shutdown that would leave the government without money to operate Friday at midnight.
President Obama, who requested $1.9 billion in Zika funding in February, is expected to sign the bill into law by tomorrow. Though an initial iteration of the legislation prohibited funds from going to Planned Parenthood, that language has since been removed. "Women's health should never be treated like a political football," Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, told NPR. "I am glad that Republicans finally agreed to set aside the extreme provisions that would have specifically blocked Planned Parenthood health care providers from accessing critical funding."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 23,000 people in the mainland United States and in Puerto Rico have been sickened by Zika. Scientists are still trying to understand the virus, which causes birth defects when contracted by pregnant women, and may create more complications down the road.
It has thus far been proven to spread both by sexual contact and through mosquitoes, but researchers are trying to determine if it can be caught other ways—a 38-year-old man in Utah appears to have become infected with the virus by sitting near his father's hospital bed shortly before the 73-year-old man succumbed to the disease. Doctors say the son may have picked up the virus from his father's "sweat or tears."
Yesterday's legislation would allocate $394 million to help mitigate mosquitos carrying Zika, as well as $397 million to help develop a Zika vaccine. Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories affected by the virus will get $66 million in funding.