Since in-person town hall meetings are off the table for the foreseeable future, Congressman Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, and Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm held a telephone town hall about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and government’s response at the state and national level.
"We are all in this together." Bryan Steil and Andrea Palm answer coronavirus questions
During his opening statements, Steil pointed to the two bills that have passed the house in response to the pandemic but admitted that the county’s capacity for testing for coronavirus was lagging behind.
“I think none of us are satisfied with where we are in terms of testing,” Steil said. “(But) many federal agencies are taking important steps to move this forward.”
Palm did not mince words about the severity of the epidemic; on Friday the state shared the “sobering news” that three Wisconsinites have died from coronavirus.
“We’ve got more than 200 positive cases now,” Palm said. “This is hard and I’m very sorry to say that I do expect this situation to worsen. We know from what we’ve seen in other countries and other states that COVID-19 will affect thousands of Wisconsinites.”
Some of those Wisconsinites will experience mild symptoms, but Palm and Steil emphasized the need to look out for one another, particularly vulnerable populations.
Palm also wanted to recognize that Wisconsin businesses, particularly restaurants and taverns which have been ordered to close except for take-out, are being hit hard by measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Please know that by following this order, you are helping slow the spread of this disease and saving lives,” Palm said.
Helping the helpers
During the Q&A portion, Dorothy, a nurse educator from Whitewater said she was very concerned about the shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) available to health care providers.
Steil said in addition to hearing from doctors and nurses across the state, he spoke with Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling on Thursday about the need for first responders to have access to PPE.
Steil said the third coronavirus response bill, which is still being negotiated in the Senate, makes this issue, “front and center to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure our healthcare providers have the protection and equipment that they need to stay safe.”
Palm brought up the issue that because coronavirus is a pandemic, the U.S. and Wisconsin is competing with other counties and other states for these supplies. In Wisconsin, Palm said a number of businesses have expressed a desire to help manufacture additional equipment.
“Those are active conversations and work that is going on now and we are hopeful,” Palm said.
How long can this last?
A couple callers’ questions were about the economic impacts the outbreak could have. Karen from Racine asked about assistance for gig workers who have fallen through the cracks since they do not qualify for unemployment insurance.
Steil that discussion has been part of the negotiations for the third coronavirus bill, which he hopes will provide some assistance to unemployed gig workers. Palm said that is also a conversation being had at the state level and that she would pass along those concerns to the governor’s office.
A small business owner named Lisa from Mukwonago asked, what the strategy is to get the economy back up and running once the risk diminishes.
Steil emphasized that all the precautions Lisa mentioned that are hurting the economy — staying home, practicing good hygiene — will also help the economy because it will shorten the timeline for how long the epidemic will affect everyday activity.
“That’s a question we all want to know,” Steil said. “A lot of that is going to be reading the data that comes back in the days ahead and its going to be a situation where we’re listening to our state and national health experts as we determine next steps in this crisis.”
Palm said that all state departments — the Department of Labor, Insurance Commissioner, Workforce Development — are part of discussions on how to adapt and help people weather this crisis so they are able to rebuild.
Steil emphasized in his closing statements the importance that everyone pay attention to reliable sources of information, such as the Center for Disease Control and other health officials, and take precautionary measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“This is a time where we’re all in this together. It’s going to be a challenging time, I am confident that we will get through this,” Steil said. “There will be a hardship in the days and weeks ahead but we will be stronger and we will come out of this. It’s a time to reflect for all the great things we have in our country and reflect in prayer for our ability to ultimately get through this.”