How to Combat COVID-19: A Strong National Response

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The coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the country and changing our way of life. So far, the United States has seen over 300,000 cases and over 9,000 deaths, and those numbers are only expected to rise.

Right here in the Palmetto State there are more than 2,000 cases, contributing to over 40 tragic deaths of South Carolinians. While these are the official numbers from those tested, our state health department now estimates that the true number of infections exceeds 15,000.

But statistics alone can’t convey the full depth of the tragedy facing our country. Too often, we hear of mothers, fathers, grandparents, or cousins dying alone, out of fear of infecting their loved ones. We hear about young people, in their twenties or thirties, being put on ventilators during the prime of their life.

I am so thankful for the brave nurses, doctors, emergency medical professionals, and other healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line to contain this pandemic and treat those who have been infected.

We need to do everything in our power to support them — both the victims of this crisis and all of our communities facing unprecedented economic upheaval. This situation calls for a strong national response, with qualified, competent leadership at the top who listen to medical experts and marshal the full resources of the federal government.

Mass Testing Now

In order to track the spread of the virus, we need accurate and rapid mass testing, and we need it now. We cannot wait for this crisis to unfold on its own before getting serious about it. Strong testing at the outset would have minimized the economic fallout by giving public health officials crucial data that they can use to understand the spread of the virus in certain areas and populations.

Unfortunately, America still lags behind other wealthy nations, such as Germany and South Korea, in terms of testing. We are administering tests to roughly one in every 273 people, while Germany has tested one in every 90 people and South Korea has tested one in every 119 people. And some countries with adequate testing regimes like South Korea didn’t have to shut down their economy to get the virus under control. To be clear, the German or South Korean response is not perfect, but they are realistic goals we can aim for right now.

Relief Checks Now

It is simply unacceptable that working families may have to wait weeks or months for economic relief, while large corporations are already getting a bailout. Congress passed and President Trump signed into law a stimulus package which provides $1,200 checks to most citizens during this unfolding pandemic. This is a good start. But recent reports state that this vital relief can take up to five months to reach families.

This is unacceptable. No South Carolinian should have to wait that long to receive coronavirus relief. Too many South Carolinians will miss rent, default on student loans, or struggle to buy groceries.

At a time when unemployment numbers have reached an historic number nationwide, more than 64,000 people in South Carolina have found themselves jobless and in need of aid. It is imperative that our elected officials focus on pushing these checks to the American people as soon as possible.

South Carolinians need this relief, now.

Small Business Administration Loans

Small businesses are the heart and soul of South Carolina’s economy — from our bait stores to our restaurants and barber shops. They are facing an unprecedented economic disruption. Nationally, nearly a quarter of small businesses have been forced to temporarily shut down, while over ten percent are at risk of shutting down permanently in the next few weeks, according to a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

While the stimulus package provided some support to our small businesses, we need to make sure the next package of relief bills provide additional funding and loans to ensure they can survive this difficult time. Special focus needs to be placed on the mom-and-pop small businesses that are the most vulnerable. Currently, too much red tape surrounds this program, and too few banks are saying they will offer these loans. Meanwhile, the fund for these loans is simply too small, and experts say we need much more funding to ensure small businesses can survive.

COVID-19 Czar

The Trump Administration must appoint a COVID-19 czar — a single point person who is charged with coordinating the country’s response to this pandemic. This idea is nothing new. In 2014, President Obama appointed an Ebola czar, which helped the United States avoid the brunt of the epidemic and coordinated the delivery of vital support to West African countries on its frontlines.

With a crisis as complex as coronavirus, multiple government agencies and departments are involved in responding. There needs to be one qualified and experienced person who will make sure every relevant cabinet secretary, agency director and policy advisor are on the same page — day in and day out.

This czar will streamline any broken supply chains and ensure any bureaucratic chaos that emerges during the course of the government’s response is properly handled. He or she will work with both the Pentagon and FEMA to facilitate logistics, negotiate pricing of supplies and get resources to the communities that need it. State governments should not have to compete in bidding contests against each other in order to get the necessary supplies to protect and help their citizens. Historically, the federal government has played the role of assisting states in coordinating efforts in times of national crisis. We need them to play that role once again.

The Defense Production Act

During particularly acute times of national crisis, the Defense Production Act is one of the most effective tools at our disposal, used to procure necessary supplies for our military or healthcare workers.

I am glad President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, but he needs to use its full authority. We see the pictures far too often: nurses and doctors on the frontlines wearing garbage bags and using scarves as masks because they don’t have the proper personal protective equipment. Major hospitals right here in South Carolina are asking for much-needed donations of basic protective equipment. We have patients dying because there are simply not enough ventilators to support them. It doesn’t have to be that way.

No Time to Waste

South Carolinians don’t back down from challenges. We face them head on together, and we have the manpower, technology and innovative prowess to do it. But, our political leadership in Washington needs to harness these resources so we can get through this tough time and emerge from it in a stronger position to fight off the next major threat to public health. Lives are depending on it.

Former South Carolina US Senate candidate. Still fighting for working people.

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