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The worst is yet to come, but action taken this week by Congress will help families and workers who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer told listeners during a telephone town hall Thursday evening.
Kilmer, a Democrat who represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District, was joined by a pair of medical experts — Dr. Paul Pottinger, director of the Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic at the University of Washington Medical Center, and Dr. Nathan Schlicher, president-elect of the Washington State Medical Association — to field questions about the coronavirus itself during the telephone town hall.
Washington State Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown was present on the panel as well to provide insight on business-related topics.
Kilmer noted the latest coronavirus numbers in Washington state: More than 3,200 cases have been confirmed and 147 people have died from the disease.
Kitsap County has also seen a massive increase in unemployment claims. Two weeks ago, the number was 259 and this week it was 3,600.
“It is undoubtedly causing disruption to every day life,” Kilmer said.
The CARES Act — short for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — was the big topic of the call-in event.
The Senate passed it late Wednesday and it cleared the House of Representatives and was signed into law by President Trump Friday.
But on Thursday night, Kilmer said he was getting on a red-eye flight to Washington, D.C. following the town hall, as did many other House members in case the bill was held up.
“There is a lot of attention paid to workers and families,” Kilmer said of the CARES Act.
It’s an expansive piece of legislation that provides $2 trillion to fight the coronavirus. Among the highlights are $200 billion to be invested in hospitals and healthcare, $150 billion to be distributed to local and state governments (including tribal governments) and $377 billion dedicated to rescuing small businesses.
There will also be recovery rebates in the amount of $1,200 for individuals (who earn $75,000 or less) and $2,400 for married couples (who earn $150,000 or less). Families will also receive $500 per child who qualifies for the child tax credit.
The relief package also includes funding to replenish the national stockpile of personal protection equipment. For businesses, it significantly broadens the qualifications for receiving benefits in order to assist sole proprietors.
“It’s not a perfect piece of legislation, but I think it’s a significant step forward,” Kilmer said.
Pottinger and Schlicher were asked the big question: When will life return to normalcy?
The question came in reference to Trump’s recent press conference-push that America be “opened up” by Easter.
Pottinger paraphrased Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said that the virus sets the timeline.
Schlicher noted that it would be difficult to predict exactly when the entire country would see life resemble what it once was, as the timeline will be different for urban and rural areas.
As for Washington state, one of the epicenters of the virus, Pottinger estimated it would be at least two to three weeks before the state reached the other side of the peak.
“We have not yet seen the crest,” Pottinger said.
“And that’s OK; we can do that as long as everyone plays their part,” he added.
While testing is important in order to find and isolate more cases of the coronavirus, Pottinger stressed that social distancing and staying home as much as possible is the most effective way to flatten the curve of rising numbers of people infected.
Although the state has the capacity to conduct thousands of tests per day, that would simply reveal more positive cases, he said.
“The screening opportunity has more or less left the train station,” Pottinger said.
Kilmer closed the 100-minute town hall with a few words of encouragement.
“Keep the faith,” Kilmer said.
“Continue to take care of yourselves, continue to take care of each other. This virus isn’t the only thing that is contagious,” he said. “So is kindness, so is compassion.”