WINCHESTER — Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, along with Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene and Dr. Leslie Sale of the Virginia Department of Education, held a virtual town hall Sunday night through Zoom to answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and provide information about what local and state leaders are doing to help.
Wexton started by discussing details of the $2 trillion legislative stimulus package (The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act) that was signed into law on Friday to provide relief to workers and businesses impacted by the pandemic.
The legislation provides $1,200 for every individual making less than $75,000 and and $2,400 for married couples filing jointly whose adjusted gross income is under $150,000 a year. There will also be greatly enhanced unemployment insurance, including $600 being provided per week for the next four months. There will also be billions in lending and grant programs designed to help small businesses and municipalities and investments into the health care system to ensure that hospitals have the resources they need to fight the pandemic. The package also cancels payments for all federal student loan borrowers through Sept. 30, 2020, and suspends interest accrual on those federally-held loans.
Wexton said that there were plenty of things that did not make the $2.2 trillion stimulus package that she would like to see implemented. In particular, she would have liked to see a pause on foreclosures and evictions and for banks and credit card companies to suspend negative credit reporting to the bureaus. She also would have liked to see stronger cash payments and more coverage for treatment of COVID-19.
“People who are losing their jobs may be able to make ends meet as far as paying their rent or basic living expenses through unemployment insurance, but they may not be able to afford to pay the insurance premium for health insurance,” Wexton said. “So I would have liked to have seen actual coverage for the treatment for COVID-19. I would have liked to have seen a special enrollment period for Medicaid for people who all of a sudden were qualified for Medicaid. These are things I would like to see because I can already see down the pipe, despite our best efforts to shore up actual income for people, there’s going to be collateral damages which are not addressed in this legislation. So we still have more work to do.”
Greene noted that in the 21st century people are used to having immunizations from serious diseases, but said that the country is currently “unarmed” against the coronavirus, as there is no cure or vaccine for it at this time. Because of this, he and Wexton encouraged those watching the town hall to take social distancing seriously and to stay safe.
Greene said if someone thinks they need to be tested for COVID-19 to call their primary care provider to get the test ordered.
Locally, screening sites are located in outdoor tents at Winchester Medical Center, Rutherford Crossing north of Winchester and at the Warren Memorial Hospital Outpatient Center in Front Royal. Testing kits are provided through the Virginia Department of Health and Valley Health System.
Greene said the state lab in Richmond is usually able to report the results of a test within 24 to 48 hours after collecting the specimen, but that the private labs can take anywhere from three days to a week or more. He said only about one tenth of the COVID-19 tests in his district go through the state lab because of limited capacity.
Greene said the tests right now only detect the presence of the virus in the body. If someone thinks they may have just been exposed but are not sick yet, he said the test won’t do any good. He also said there is no point in getting tested if someone has gotten sick and is now over it and feeling better.
“We only have so many tests and places to run them,” Greene said. “And again it’s limited not only by the number of tests kits but also the space and time and laboratories to run them.”
Greene said anyone without a primary care provider who is coughing, short of breath and has a fever should contact a local urgent care center or emergency room in advance so they can prepare and prevent others from becoming infected.
Greene said there currently is no estimate as to when the pandemic will peak and be over. He also said the death rate is substantially higher than the flu. Whereas the flu has a death rate of a tenth of one percent, or 0.1%, the coronavirus has a worldwide death rate of about 4% to 5%.
Sale said the Department of Education is disappointed at the abrupt end to the school year, but acknowledged it was in the best interest of the public school community. She said a few of the department’s top priorities include ensuring that seniors who were set to graduate are able to do so, awarding course credit and trying to provide continuity of learning now that students can’t go to their school buildings. She said the department wants to ensure students are being served equitably, regardless of income level or background.
For more information about COVID-19, visit the Virginia Department of Health at vdh.virginia.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov. Wexton has also compiled a list of available resources at: wexton.house.gov/services/coronavirus.htm.