March 16 COVID-19 Update
Hi Folks –
I hope this finds you well. I know it’s been a challenging week for folks in our region. Washington state and the federal government are taking unprecedented action to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). It is undoubtedly causing disruption to everyday life.
I know folks have a lot of questions. Tonight, Monday, March 16 at 6:30pm PT, I’ll be hosting a telephone town hall to talk about the federal government’s response to COVID-19. In addition to a discussion on the recently passed $8.3B emergency funding supplemental and legislation passed by the House on Saturday to support workers and families, the telephone town hall will feature experts to help answer your questions regarding best practices and ongoing medical efforts to address this public health emergency, including:
- Dr. Alex Greninger, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., M.Phil., assistant director of the University of Washington Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory and a University of Washington assistant professor of Laboratory Medicine.
- Dr. Nathan Schlicher, M.D., president-elect of the Washington State Medical Association and regional medical director of quality assurance for the emergency departments at CHI Franciscan.
The health and safety of folks in our region is my number one priority. I hope you can join.
Supporting Workers and Families
Two weeks ago, Congress passed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to support the response to COVID-19. The legislation I supported included more than $3 billion for the research and development of vaccines, $2.2 billion in public health funding for prevention, preparedness, and response ($950 million of which is targeted at supporting state and local health agencies), and nearly $1 billion for the procurement of medical supplies.
The legislation also included a provision I led to allow up to $7 billion in low-interest loans to be made available by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help small businesses that have been impacted by financial losses as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. That was an important first step, but obviously far more must be done.
This weekend, more action was taken when Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act - comprehensive legislation I supported aimed at addressing the severe impacts of the coronavirus on Americans’ personal safety and financial security.
In addition to including a bipartisan measure I led to provide disaster unemployment assistance to people who are unable to work due to the current coronavirus outbreak, the legislation provides paid leave, establishes free coronavirus testing, expands food assistance for vulnerable children and families, protects frontline health workers, and provides additional funding to states for the ongoing economic consequences of the pandemic, among other provisions.
Specifically, the legislation will:
Ensure free testing for coronavirus: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act ensures that all individuals who need a test, including those with private insurance, Medicare Advantage or Original Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, VA, FEHBP, and TRICARE, as well as the uninsured, will have access at no cost.
Provide economic security:
-Paid emergency leave: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave.
-Enhanced unemployment insurance: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives states the resources and flexibility to provide unemployment benefits to laid off and furloughed workers, as well as to those workers who exhaust their allotted paid leave. This measure also provides additional funding to help the hardest-hit states immediately and in the future if conditions worsen.
Provide food security: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes more than $1 billion to provide food to low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children, help local food banks, and feed low-income seniors. It ensures that students who depend on schools and childcare for free and reduce-priced meals continue to have access to nutritious foods during closures. And it provides women, infants, and children with the flexibility to access food and infant formula without having to make unnecessary or unsafe visits to clinics.
Increase health security: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act increases the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), which the federal government provides to state and territorial Medicaid programs. This will prevent states from cutting benefits, reducing their Medicaid rolls, or imposing greater costs on enrollees.
At a time like this, providing help to workers, families, and all those who need it most is vitally important. This bill, which passed the House by a vote of 363-40, is another good step to ensure the federal government steps up. I am hopeful that the Senate will pass it – and that the President will sign it – quickly.
Even so –there’s plenty more to do. Work is already underway on a third emergency response package to stimulate the economy and assist in addressing the urgency of testing.
Calling for Immediate Federal Response to Washington’s Additional COVID-19 Needs
Following the Vice President’s visit to Washington earlier this month, I led a bipartisan letter from our congressional delegation calling on the Trump Administration to immediately fulfill our state’s additional needs to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. Because our state has unfortunately been on the front lines of this, we obviously have acute challenges. We discussed those issues with Vice President Pence, but the representatives from our state – Democrats and Republicans – want to make sure that our state’s needs are being met.
The letter to the Vice President called for steps to ensure those who need it can be tested, changes to government assistance programs to ensure families can put food on the table, assistance to our first responders, protection for consumers against phishing attacks, and additional funding.
“Ongoing support at the highest levels of the U.S. government is critical to our state’s ability to respond to this epidemic,” we wrote. “We recognize that as the first state to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak of this magnitude, eyes around the country are closely watching the Washington state response. We thank you in advance for your efforts to mitigate the outbreak in our communities, and across the country, and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts to keep our communities safe.”
Helping Our Small Businesses
This week, I also led a bipartisan group of 29 lawmakers in calling for urgent action and clarity from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to assist small businesses being impacted by COVID-19 and related containment efforts.
While Congress approved up to $7 billion in low-interest disaster loans to assist small businesses impacted by this public health crisis, there’s still a lot that needs to be done to ensure this help gets to those who need it, ASAP.
The letter asked SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza to do the following:
1. Provide a clear process for how states can work with the Small Business Administration to officially declare a disaster for coronavirus-related economic injuries to small businesses
2. Develop and communicate a clear process for small businesses who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus to access economic injury disaster loans
3. Provide direction to Congress on what steps are being taken by the Small Business Administration to deliver assistance as quickly as possible
4. Compile and communicate a repository of additional resources that are available to assist small businesses adversely affected by the coronavirus
As information regarding assistance to our local employers is made available, I’ll be pushing it out. It is our responsibility to ensure that small businesses in Washington and across the country know that we are looking out for them. I intend to keep working to have their backs – and the backs of their workers.
This is one resource – and I’m pushing for many others to ensure we help our Main Street employers and their employees.
You Can Help
We can all do our part to address the ongoing outbreak by being familiar with the symptoms of COVID-19 and practicing good personal health habits.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
For information about handwashing, see CDC’s Handwashing website. For information specific to health care, see CDC’s Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings. These are everyday habits that can help prevent the spread of several viruses. CDC does have specific guidance for travelers.
Resources for you and your family
Make sure you are getting your information from official sources. The CDC has put together a comprehensive resource guide at CDC.gov and you can find some of those resources here.
What You Should Know
- Communities, schools, and businesses
- Healthcare professionals
- Health departments
Washington State Resources:
Businesses – For information on financial assistance (including SBA loans); export assistance; employer and worker assistance; insurance assistance check here: Get resources for impacted businesses and workers
Schools – For updates on school closures and information and guidance for parents Visit the OSPI COVID-19 webpage
Insurance – For Washingtonians without health insurance: the Washington Health Benefits Exchange opened a limited-time special enrollment period through April 8, 2020. Enroll for health insurance
Veterans – For information about state veterans’ homes Visit the WA Dept. of Veterans Affairs webpage
In the meantime, please take care of yourselves – and each other. Remember – this virus isn’t the only thing that is contagious... so is kindness and compassion. I’ll talk to you tonight on the telephone town hall!
As always, I’m honored to represent you.
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