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WINCHESTER — Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, held a virtual town hall Tuesday night to answer questions about the coronavirus and to update her constituents on Congress’s efforts to deal with the pandemic.
Wexton, accompanied by Loudoun County Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend and Inova Clinical Enterprise Support Operations Senior Vice President Susan Carroll, began the session by announcing that Congress has completed phase I of its response to the crisis — a $8.3 billion spending package. The package will help public health agencies prepare for and respond to the virus, fund the research and development of vaccines and production of testing kits, and provide loans to small businesses that will be impacted by the coronavirus.
She said the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is phase II of efforts to stop the coronavirus and address its impact on Americans.
The legislation, signed by President Trump on Wednesday, will provide free coronavirus testing, up to two weeks of paid sick leave, up to three months of paid family and medical leave, strong unemployment benefits and the expansion of food assistance for vulnerable children and families.
A constituent from Ashburn who participated in the virtual town hall said the bill exempts companies that employ more than 500 workers from providing paid sick leave and asked Wexton, “Why do we want them going to work when they are sick?” Wexton responded that she wants all working Americans to have paid sick leave.
“But this coronavirus bill was a negotiation,” Wexton explained. “There were folks who did not want it to even cover employers of up to 400 people, so it’s phase II of a multi-phase process. I have made my feelings about this known to the Speaker [of the House] and to leadership and as we move forward into phase III and beyond we are certainly going to move to close those gaps and make sure people are protected as well.”
Wexton urged her constituents to further reduce public gatherings, saying all Virginians should avoid nonessential gatherings of more than 10 people. About 830,000 people live in her district, which includes all of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun counties, parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, and the independent cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Winchester.
Carroll said “social distancing” will flatten the curve to prevent the coronavirus from spreading but will also help with other respiratory illnesses like the flu. She said this will keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients.
One town hall participant asked Wexton if the government would ration the amount of cleaning supplies people can buy, as people with weak immune systems are having a hard time finding products like hand sanitizer or soap. Wexton said while some retailers are placing limits on purchases, she doesn’t think the federal government is going to be stepping in.
“I share your frustration. I’ve experienced the same thing,” Wexton said. “Nobody needs to be hoarding anything. The supply lines are up. Stores will be restocking. Please just buy what you need because there’s enough for everybody.”
Another person asked if there would be a state-mandated curfew. Goodfriend said Gov. Ralph Northam has been “forward thinking,” but he is unsure if a curfew “would be necessary or desired.”
Wexton said Virginia’s DMVs are closing until April 2 in response to the coronavirus. Because of this, the DMV is extending for 60 days the validity of driver’s licenses, identification cards and vehicle registrations that would have otherwise expired. She also said the State Corporation Commission will make sure people don’t get their utilities shut off.
For updates, visit Wexton.house.gov.