03.09.20

March 9 COVID-19 Update from Rep. Kilmer

Hi Folks –

I want to start by sharing my condolences with the families, friends, and loved ones of those who have lost their lives due to complications from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Please know that you are in my prayers.

I also want to offer a heartfelt thank you to the first responders, health care professionals, state and local officials, and everyone in our communities working day-and-night to respond to COVID-19. You all are doing incredible, life-saving work.

As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have continued to grow here in Washington and across the country, I’ve been working to ensure that our federal government takes action to keep people safe and healthy.

Ensuring the Federal Government Steps Up to Help Our Communities

Last week, Congress passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the bill was quickly signed into law by the President. The legislation provides $8.3 billion in funding to ensure the federal government steps up to the scale and seriousness of this growing public health emergency. It provides critical funding to ensure that vaccines, once developed, are affordable and available to all who need them, and that state and local governments are reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the COVID-19 threat. In a time marked by far too much partisanship, the bill received near unanimous support. 

This bill includes $2.2 billion in public health funding for prevention, preparedness, and response, including $950 million to support state and local health agencies. It also includes:

  • Nearly $1 billion for medical supplies, health care preparedness, and medical surge capacity;
  • More than $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics; and importantly, once those vaccines are developed, we’ve provided more than $300 million to ensure that access to vaccines is affordable;
  • And, over $1 billion to secure Americans’ health by addressing the coronavirus overseas.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee – I have the opportunity to play an important role in crafting bills like this – and I’m fortunate to be able to advocate for the needs of our communities.

In fact, that played out last week when I heard first-hand from shellfish growers and export-dependent manufacturers in our region who reached out and who visited me in D.C. to let me know that they were taking a big hit.

I reached out directly to House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey, to push for assistance for businesses in our affected communities. As a result, the bill Congress passed included a measure that will enable the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide an estimated $7 billion in loans to small businesses across our region and across the country that are suffering financial losses as a result of the outbreak.

It’s important for the federal government to have the backs of our small businesses by providing this assistance. While details of eligibility and administration of this assistance from SBA are still being worked out, I encourage you to reach out to me or my team in Tacoma for assistance at (253) 272-3515.

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On Friday, I joined Governor Jay Inslee, Representative Susan DelBene, and King County Executive Dow Constantine to give a briefing on the funding package and the federal government’s response to COVID-19. You can watch the full press conference here.

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Touring the Pierce County Readiness Center with the Vice President, Heads of CDC & CMS

Following the passage of the emergency supplemental, I toured the Washington State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray with Vice President Mike Pence, Governor Jay Inslee, Administrator of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Robert Redfield, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Seema Verma, and members of the Washington congressional delegation. The emergency center at Camp Murray is serving as the site of the joint information center where staff from state agencies are working together to coordinate the response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

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Our health care professionals and first responders are working day-and-night to keep folks safe. It’s important that the Vice President and heads of CDC and CMS traveled to Washington to see the current situation first-hand and hear directly from those working to address the emerging health challenge that’s impacting our communities.

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Next Steps from the Federal Government

While I’m proud that Congress was able to come together and overwhelmingly pass an emergency supplemental to get critical funding to communities in Washington, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work to do by the federal government to ensure that it’s meeting the massive challenges posed by COVID-19.

Over the past week, I’ve been speaking at length with health care providers, hospital administrators, state and local officials, small business owners, and everyone in-between to learn more about the needs of folks across our region, and inform how I can work to ensure that there is a robust and coordinated federal response from the Administration.

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First – there needs to be progress made on testing kits and on ensuring that there is clarity around when, where, and to whom tests will be made available.

One thing the Vice President acknowledged during his visit last week is that we haven’t had enough tests to keep track of this outbreak as it was happening in our state.

Frankly, that’s really disappointing. We knew this was coming – and I even wrote to the CDC more than a month ago with Senator Murray and 48 bipartisan lawmakers asking that they distribute rapid diagnostic tests as quickly as possible following the first diagnosed case in Washington.

Now, we need all hands on deck to get our testing up to the capacity that we need. In addition to processing tests at the state lab, our universities are going to be running tests and we need commercial labs to start processing these tests as well. It appears that things are heading that way, and I’ll keep pushing.

Second – there needs to be progress made to address some of the public health challenges, including clarity and guidance on financial responsibility for testing and potential treatment.

At the federal and state levels, policies are being put in place to ensure that the diagnostic test for COVID-19 is being covered by insurers, including Medicare. However, these policies aren't covering everyone yet, and I’ll be urging the Administration to provide additional clarification about how they will ensure that this test is made available to all Americans, and what steps the Administration is taking to ensure those who need to be tested can readily access it.

In addition, as the first state to be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, we will need ongoing support for our first responders who may not yet have the proper equipment to protect themselves and quickly respond to urgent health cases. As our state is the testing ground for the U.S. response to COVID-19, I’ll advocate for the Administration to work closely with Members of Congress and Washington state officials to address emerging needs for first responders and public health professionals in real time in the coming weeks.

Third – there needs to be further progress to address some of the economic implications that our communities are facing.

The impact of COVID-19 extends beyond the health of our communities. It also has an impact on the financial well-being of individuals and families, businesses, and the entire economy. Uninsured individuals, hourly wage workers, and those without paid sick leave are likely to experience disproportionate economic impact due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This, in addition to the potential layoff of employees and reduction of work hours during an economic downturn, may have a lasting impact on communities across the state, particularly in rural communities.

I’ll be encouraging the Administration to work across its federal agencies to identify ways it can provide direct support to individuals, families, and businesses that are impacted. Additionally, I’ll urge the Administration to work with Congress to address emergency policies that help protect workers, families, and businesses, and to mitigate any economic fallout caused by the outbreak.

Furthermore, because stockpiling food is exceptionally challenging for households that already struggle to put food on the table, I’ll be encouraging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give states like ours affected by COVID-19 the flexibility to provide an additional month’s worth of food benefits for SNAP households. In addition, I’ll encourage the Administration to waive federal requirements that retailers’ stock specific food products and a specific amount of those products in order to be certified for the WIC (Women, Infant and Children) Nutrition Program. Increased flexibility to states in delivering Basic Food Assistance and administering other social and health services, like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), WIC, and SNAP, will allow states to determine the best way to meet the needs of families and communities impacted by the outbreak.

It’s a good thing that Democrats and Republicans were able to come together in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to address some of the major funding challenges our region is facing. But there’s a lot more work to do. I’ll be urging the Administration to work for our state and ensure it has the resources it needs to keep people safe and healthy and to protect our economic health as well.

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.

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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

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

Situation Updates

Information For

I’ll continue to keep you updated with more information as it becomes available – and encourage you to sign-up for my newsletter and follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest.

As always, I’m honored to represent you.