WASHINGTON, D.C. (WAVY) — Nearly two months after coronavirus concerns shuttered many American businesses, Congress is beginning to talk about how to reopen the country.
Virginia Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va. 3rd District) held a press conference on Thursday with other members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia and Maryland. The lawmakers spoke about the necessary steps the United States must take before reopening businesses, schools and governments.
Scott said that “massive” amounts of testing for the coronavirus must be done before reopening America — much more than is currently happening across the country.
“Any strategies have to involve testing at levels that vastly exceed what we’re doing now. Most of that’s been started with two or three times the level of testing we’re doing now,” Scott said.
The problem with resuming business as usual without more COVID-19 testing is the latency period of the virus, Scott said.
A person can be asymptomatic and still be a COVID-19 carrier. Some people do not develop symptoms for up to 14 days. Carriers are often spreading coronavirus before they even know they are sick.
“By the time you notice actual symptoms, somebody’s been spreading the virus around for a week or two, and the people they’ve been spreading it to are spreading it around,” Scott said. “If you wait until there are symptoms it’s already too late.”
Scott also said that another important step in reopening is for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop and issue a temporary, enforceable standard that would require workplaces to implement plans protect workers from contracting COVID-19 on the job.
Scott said that some businesses have taken their own precautions — like putting up barriers between employees and customers or requiring everyone to wear a face mask. But without a standard developed by OSHA, businesses are left without guidance and safety standards cannot be enforced.
“This is a problem. If OSHA isn’t doing it, each nursing home, each grocery store, each meat packing plant, each mail delivery facility has got to dream it up on its own. OSHA ought to be there prescribing in detail, based on OSHA’s expertise and the CDC, exactly what ought to be done,” Scott said.
Scott has spearheaded the effort to ask OSHA to issue a temporary emergency standard since January. It has not happened yet.
This week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam spoke about reopening the Commonwealth’s economy in phases. Northam hopes Virginia will be able to enter Phase 1 of reopening on May 14. This would include eased limitations on businesses and faith communities, but still provide restrictions like no social gatherings of more than 10 people.
Plans to reopen may changed, based on data analysis done over the next week, Northam said.
Congress is also working on future legislation to help Americans who are suffering the loss of their jobs, insurance, and access to the internet due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Scott said he is focused on providing funding for state and local governments, especially in the realm of education. Virginia’s schools have been closed since mid-March, forcing teachers and students to adapt to online instruction. Not every student has access to broadband and distance learning has created additional financial burdens.
The impact is large — and could effect students and teachers even after they’ve returned to the classroom.
“The General Assembly had to adopt budget adjustments that cancelled a 2% raise for teachers, funding for high-poverty schools, more counselors, a freeze in tuition,” Scott said. “All of that because of revenue estimates. If we don’t help states with their revenue estimates they have to balance their budget, and to a large extent we believe it’s going to come at the expense of education.”
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