Notes from Congresswoman Clark’s Coronavirus Tele-TownHall

This evening, Congresswoman Katherine Clark hosted a tele-town hall on coronavirus, with Homeland Security expert Juliette Kayyem and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia of BU Medical School. They took some time to answer questions about the virus itself, the public health response, and government actions.

Some takeaways:

-Community spread of coronavirus is here – both in Massachusetts and around the country. Due to inadequate testing, we still don’t really know how many people are carrying the virus or exactly how deadly it is here. 

We have three ways of addressing the challenge now:

  1. Personal conduct – washing our hands, staying in if we’re sick, avoiding touching surfaces touched by others, etc.

  2. Institutional responses – companies closing down, large events being canceled

  3. Government response – broad-scale shutdowns. Prior to the last few days, this was mostly being done on a disjointed, state-by-state basis, but we’re finally seeing clear guidance from the federal government to take this seriously.

Juliette Kayyem, who has been on top of this situation from when it initially seemed like a distant concern (and is a must-follow on Twitter @JulietteKayyem), said that the #1 priority is surging resources we are going to need in the weeks ahead, such as respirators, testing kits, and hospital beds. We may need to utilize military assets to do these things.

About the question of how long we’ll have to live like this- according to Kayyem, it’s “not two weeks and not a year – it’s somewhere in between.”

Congresswoman Clark gave an update from Washington about Congress’s response. As a constituent, I appreciate her leadership right now in making sure Congress’s response is focused on fighting for those most in need.

Two weeks ago, Congress passed an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill, including $3 billion toward the development of treatments and a vaccine, and billions in low-interest loans to small businesses. 

Last week, the House passed a bill to provide support for the most vulnerable, including low-income students and seniors, people on Medicaid, and those requiring paid sick leave. They’re waiting for the Senate to pass this bill, while also working with both Democrats and Republicans to pass a third bill, which will be focused on economic stimulus. 

Some notes from the Q&A with residents:

Is it safe to go out for fresh air if you’re over 60?

-Yes. Feel free to go outside and enjoy fresh air. Just be sure to avoid crowded spaces and maintain distance. 

What should people do who are caregivers for an elderly person or a person with disabilities?

-First of all, take care of yourself and make sure you don’t get sick and pass the virus on to a person in your care.

-Talk to your loved one’s medical provider and get their advice on whether it’s safer for them to be cared for in a medical facility or at home.

What advice can be given to those nervous about being foreclosed on or evicted due to temporary job loss?

-Congress is exploring a foreclosure moratorium.

-For renters locally, the Massachusetts housing court has halted evictions until April 21 to give people the ability to find some solutions

How will authorities know when to relax social distancing measures?

-That’s going to be a public health decision; Honestly, we don’t have a definitive answer. Some of it will be based on how successful these measures are in flattening the curve. 

Should you touch the mail or boxes being delivered to your house? Is there a chance that can transmit the virus?

-Your biggest concerns in terms of surfaces are ones that get touched often. Surfaces such as the mail could have a miniscule chance of transmitting the disease. The bigger concerns are door handles, elevator buttons, your iPhone – things that lots of people touch or might get placed on a surface that gets touched regularly. 

Why have people been advised against buying face masks?

-The disease is transmitted through sneezes and coughs – the fluid carries the virus. If you’re walking around, as long as you keep a distance from people,  you can only be contaminated by touching surfaces touched by those with the virus. There is no need for a mask to do that. 

Dr. Bhadelia noted that people with masks sometimes feel a false sense of security and get too close to others. The key is to keep a distance from people and protect yourself from surfaces that may transmit the virus. 

What are the chances of getting legislation passed to help people most in need, given that the administration was initially pushing for a payroll tax cut?

Congresswoman Clark noted that the payroll tax is too slow and inefficient of a method to get money into the hands of people who need it the most – to pay rent, to buy food and to get prescriptions. Working with the White House, Congressional Republicans, and fellow Democrats, the Congresswoman is working on a bill to expand paid family leave, unemployment benefits, food benefits, and Medicaid for those most in need. 

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