WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Delaware’s Morning News with Peter MacArthur to discuss the federal government’s plan for economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic in Delaware and nationally.  The bill Senator Coons discussed on air this morning passed the Senate this afternoon and will soon become law.

“Governor Carney has taken necessary and strong measures: closing all our schools for two weeks, urging people to not gather in large groups, and closing restaurants and bars for all but takeout or drive-through service,”Senator Coons said. “These are tough measures, but frankly what I’m hearing here in Washington, Peter, about the model for how quickly this may spread and how many Americans may be hospitalized – we need to take strong measures at this point.”

“There is a bill from the House that is likely going to be passed by the Senate today that will provide increased support for unemployment insurance, for food stamps, and for school lunch assistance for students who are home from school, and support for sick leave payments.

“We should be both recovering from this disease and investing in better, stronger, faster infrastructure. This disease has a mortality rate somewhere between one and two percent. If it had a mortality rate more like ten or twenty percent, something more like Ebola, we would be facing a catastrophic pandemic.”

Full audio available here. Full transcript available below.

Sen. Coons: Well, Peter, it was a conference call. We’re avoiding in person meetings at this point, and it was an opportunity for the whole Congressional delegation and our staff to hear from the Secretary of Health and Social Services and the Director of Public Health about the increase in the total number of cases, the results of recent testing, the need for further personal protective equipment-masks and gloves and so forth, and sort of where we are in terms of our hospital capacity and preparedness. Overall, it was encouraging, I’ll put it that way, the Christiana Care and DB both did their first drive-through testing of over 600 people, and there were just eight additional cases detected in Delaware. So while I am concerned about the 16 people who’ve tested positive in Delaware, so far most of them are recovering well, and the percentage of people who’ve been tested to the number of people who’ve tested positive remains relatively low. Governor Carney has taken necessary and strong measures: closing all our schools for two weeks, urging people to not gather in large groups, and closing restaurants and bars for all but takeout or drive-through service. These are tough measures, but frankly what I’m hearing here in Washington Peter, about the model for how quickly this may spread and how many Americans may be hospitalized, we need to take strong measures at this point.

Q: Flattening out the bump as they say. Senator let me ask you this, yesterday listening to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin talking about their plan to basically pump lots and lots of money into a struggling economy was mentioned the possibility of, this was thrown out there, thousand-dollar checks for Americans. Did you hear anything more about that during the course of the afternoon yesterday? 

Sen. Coons: I’ve met with several senators, or I should say I had calls with several senators, who are proposing different versions of this. Senator Bennet of Colorado is suggesting I think a bolder way to do that which is $2,500 per adult citizen for the next three months. One payment. If the economy remains flatter in recession which I think is likely, and coronavirus remains a challenge nationally, another $1,500. That’s one way to get money quickly, directly out to families impacted by this. I’m also pushing for things that will make a difference for small businesses and employers as well as making sure we are focused on delivering resources to our hospitals, physicians, people working in healthcare industries. There is a bill from the House that is likely going to be passed by the Senate today that will provide increased support for unemployment insurance, for food stamps, and for school lunch assistance for students who are home from school, and support for sick leave payments. We’re trying to work out the final details of this in a way that will allow as many small businesses as possible to get access to credit so that it can continue employing people. We are seeing very worrying signs across the whole economy. I heard from the head of AMTRAK yesterday about how their ridership has just plummeted and without some support, AMTRAK is going to start shutting down train lines, so that's another thing we’re advocating for. I believe this morning, Peter, we will take up and pass the $100 billion package from the House that principally focuses on the health care system and families. And we will begin, we’re already well under way, the next package which will include some combination of support for workers and support that will go directly to both industries and to individuals across our country. 

Q: It’s very interesting that you bring up AMTRAK, Senator. Last week at this time they were talking about how they were maintaining many of their routes and just increasing sanitation and hygiene measures and such, and you talk about escalation of a situation where things have fallen off so quickly for them and that really mirrors a lot of what’s happening throughout many elements of our business world right now. 

Sen. Coons: That’s right. If you're running a hotel, a restaurant, an airline, or commuter rail like SEPTA or AMTRAK, you're seeing ridership or customers dropping off very quickly. One of the things I was urging was that AMTRAK, if they get the from the federal government, we’re fighting for, they use this time to keep the folks who work in our Bear and Wilmington shops, which are two of the largest AMTRAK facilities in the country, keep them working, doing maintenance and upgrades and repairs on the trains that are now sidelined. There are ways to keep people productively employed even as airline flights and regional rail and AMTRAK lines are not running. They have cancelled about a third of their operating trains up and down the Northeast Corridor in the country at this point, and we’re trying to put a floor under it so that they continue operating so people who need to travel can. 

Q: Let me ask you this, senator, this is actually a question we posted on our Facebook page this morning. We’ve heard the slogan if you will “the new normal'' bandied about of late, and I’d be interested to get your impressions on that, and when I say that what I mean is, is this setting us up for every year or two down the road now? We come across another one of these superbugs for which from a medical perspective, we’re not really ready to handle. Is that the new normal, and if so, what does what we’re going through now set us up for better success now that we’re laying down a foundation for how to deal with these things? 

Sen. Coons: Well, Peter, it’s funny you should mention that. I had a conversation yesterday with one of the leaders in the federal agency called BARTA which is designated to exactly this challenge which is making sure that we are adequately prepared for the next pandemic. It was set up about 10 years ago. It funded three large centers, one in Maryland, one in North Carolina, one in Texas, to be able to do vaccine production quickly, and when a vaccine for coronavirus or for COVID-19 is developed the federal government will in part rely on those centers. There is a cutting edge advanced manufacturing institute at the University of Delaware called The National Institute for Innovation in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing that is already funded and is stood up and is leading national conversations around how to do better, faster, more innovative, more flexible manufacturing around both pharmaceuticals, the things that help us get better-antiretrovirals, and vaccines, the things that help us prevent pandemics. I have been fighting for more funding which is something that BARTA has requested in the last several budgets but then denied. We should be both recovering from this disease and investing in better, stronger, faster infrastructure. This disease has a mortality rate somewhere between one and two percent. If it had a mortality rate more like ten or twenty percent, something more like Ebola, we would be facing a catastrophic pandemic. And it is possible that a pandemic like that, much more like the 1918 Spanish Flu will at some point emerge because of the changes globally that climate change is causing in where and when animals migrate and how humans and animals are interacting. So the leading scientists in this field are advocating for more investment at the University of Delaware’s nationally leading cutting-edge center where all the major private sector players in this space are meeting regularly and doing cutting edge research. This is exactly the sort of area being prepared not just to respond promptly to this outbreak, but to the next one where I think folks expect the federal government to be looking over the horizon…  

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