CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES ON CORONAVIRUS: “OUR JOB IS TO PROTECT THE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WITH THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW”
WASHINGTON – This week, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-MA) held the House Democratic leadership’s weekly press conference, where they outlined steps that Congress is taking to keep all Americans protected from the coronavirus. They were joined by Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA), a pediatrician and the only female doctor in Congress and Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who previously served as a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), helping communities across the country prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters, bioterror threats and public health emergencies.
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Today, we had a very robust discussion at the Caucus meeting on the growing threat that is presented by the coronavirus. It's clearly a national emergency. It requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. It requires engagement from everyone: Democrats and Republicans from the House and the Senate, the White House and the administration. It requires engagement at the city, state and federal level. The House Democratic Caucus, great leadership from Speaker Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and our Members are committed to making sure that we do everything possible to both contain the virus and then to mitigate it as it emerges in jurisdiction after jurisdiction.
We heard from Chairwoman Nita Lowey, and our goal is to make sure that we do not leave Washington this week without an allocation of resources to deal with the coronavirus. It is our expectation that that number would be substantially greater than the amount requested by the administration and that it will involve new funds, not a reallocation of existing funds. Chairwoman Lowey has been working with her counterpart in the Senate, and it's our hope that we will have a bill on the floor at some point in the next day or two.
We also heard from a former HHS Secretary, Sylvia Burwell, with a detailed analysis about the situation that we face, some of the lessons that we as Americans have learned in terms of addressing viruses and outbreaks connected, for instance, to Ebola and Zika in prior years and how those lessons can be applied in confronting the coronavirus that we face right now.
VICE CHAIR CLARK: As the Chairman said, the House is working to advance a strong emergency funding supplement package that will fully address the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis. Dr. Fauci will also be coming back before the House Appropriations Committee tomorrow to answer our questions about how we can best make sure that Americans are secure and healthy. But with an outbreak at our doorstep, it's important to recognize the risk that our nation runs when basic necessities like health care and paid family leave are out of reach for so many American families.
Just this week, we will be extending to TSA workers the full protections of being federal employees under Title V. This means they would be eligible for paid family leave, but we already have a notice of veto intent from the White House.
This same week, the White House is in court attempting again to dismantle the ACA and advocating for their budget proposal that would severely underfund Medicare and Medicaid. So expanding health care quickly becomes, in a crisis like this, not just the humane and right thing to do, but it becomes a question of national security. And we cannot let this be jeopardized. We must continue our work to ensure that basic affordable care is in reach for families and for workers. And we are very, very glad to have with us today, two of our Members of Congress who bring tremendous background in their medical expertise to their work every day and who we are relying upon during this time of threat to the health of the American people.
So I'm very proud to introduce Congresswoman Kim Schrier from Washington state, where we're seeing a real outbreak. And Kim is a pediatrician and we are delighted to have her with us today.
REP. SCHRIER: They say pediatricians are practically infectious disease experts.
Good morning and thank you for your attention to this quickly evolving situation. We are all understandably worried right now.
First, before I even start, I just want to extend a big thank you to our public health officials who have been working around the clock, to our first responders who put themselves in danger's way every day, to doctors and nurses and others who are working in the hospitals, taking care of ill patients, putting themselves potentially at risk, and also to researchers who are working on vaccines and treatments, including in my home state of Washington, the University of Washington and Kaiser.
Second, being from King County, Washington, I want to extend my sympathies to the families of loved ones who have passed from COVID-19.
And then third, I wanted to turn my attention to everyone else at this time of uncertainty and worry. We've known from the start that COVID-19 would come to the United States and that it was a matter of when and not a matter of if, and that is why preparations have been ongoing. We know for sure that this disease will spread, especially at the beginning in urban and suburban areas, and it will get worse before it gets better. We all have a role to play and we need to do our part. There are things that we can do to limit the spread and protect our communities, and these should not be underestimated even though they're simple. They also should not be dismissed by people who consider themselves low-risk because of their age or their health. This disease can be very serious for certain populations of people, and it is incumbent on every one of us to do our part to slow the spread as much as possible, but total containment is not likely.
I anticipate that there will be more recommendations to do things like canceling large gatherings, sports events, concerts and the like as this spread. I would prepare yourselves in addition for things like school closures, workplace closures and just start planning now if you haven't already. […] So think about also the choices you make daily now already about whether you shake hands or whether you elbow bump. […] Get your health information from trusted sources like the CDC and your own public health departments. Remain calm. Don't panic and we will get through this together.
REP. UNDERWOOD: Good morning. It's so great to be here today as a nurse and as a public health expert. When it comes to this coronavirus, the most important thing I want to stress to the public is that now is the time to prepare, not panic.
Prior to being elected, I worked as a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. In that role, I worked on the department's responses to public health emergencies like Ebola and the Zika virus. I remember feeling the weight and gravity of our work, of knowing the American people and the world were looking to us. The threat was grave, but we took it with resolve, with focus and with coordination. Our communities were left stronger and we must do that again. That means ensuring an all-of-government response that builds sustainable capacity within our local public health systems. That is essential, as is relying on experts and putting them directly in front of the American people to communicate about steps that they can take to minimize their risk of infection and to prevent transmission to others. We need to support the essential role of state and local public health officials with more sustained funding.
I convened a call with those in my community last Friday to gather information about what they're seeing and hearing and to thank them for their work. These are the people truly on the front lines. I'm so proud of the work that they're doing to protect our communities. Here in Congress, make no mistake: we will answer this call with the policy direction and the resources required to fund an all-of-government approach that supports state and local government responses, guarantees affordable vaccines for all and prioritizes COVID-19 response without diverting funds from other essential public health needs. The safety of our community depends on it.
Video of the full press conference and Q&A can be viewed here.
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