As the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across Oregon and our nation, we must keep in our prayers those who have succumbed to this disease, those who are infected with it, and those dedicated health care workers who are on the front lines.
As the GOP leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee I’m deeply involved in crafting polices and making changes to rules and regulations so our local health care providers have what they need. That means daily updates from the Oregon Health Authority and more than daily calls with Congressional leadership and White House officials, including leaders from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others.
I wanted to provide this update on what we know and share additional information that you may find helpful.
With no treatments yet available to stop the virus, we have to rely on basic public health efforts to control its spread. The recommendations put forth by the CDC make sense and will work if we all heed them.
The number one priority is ensuring that our local public health officials have the funding and resources they need to be effective. President Trump recently signed a supplemental funding package I helped author that will provide $7.8 billion in new funding to help with coronavirus response efforts. This package also includes a bipartisan provision I authored for Medicare beneficiaries that would allow more patients to get the care they need at home to avoid potentially overcrowded health care facilities, especially in rural areas.
Congress also passed a second bipartisan coronavirus supplemental package that will provide necessary resources to families in Oregon and across our nation. I helped write the 6.2 % increase in Medicaid funding for states—including Oregon—so that programs that help lower income people get access to health care have the resources they need.
As our nation responds to the coronavirus, Americans should not have to fear severe financial implications if they need to stay home sick to prevent the spread of the virus. That is why we made sure that Americans who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others due to the coronavirus are financially supported. The package also provides $1.25 billion to increase funding for food assistance to senior citizens, women, children, and low-income families. We also ensured that there are no-cost barriers to Americans who medically require a diagnostic lab test for COVID-19. The bill was just signed into law by the President.
There is still more that needs to be done. We need to boost the availability and supply of crucial respirators and the ability to improve the surge capacity of our health care workforce. We need to get more test kits and make tests available. And it’s clear we need to step up production of respirators and hand sanitizers. Recently, a hand sanitizer company in Oregon sought my help to expedite the approval of ethanol purchases in order to increase their hand sanitizer production. We were able to help them get rapid federal approval to do that. It’s this kind of smart thinking by entrepreneurs that will help America through this pandemic.
We must also do our best to bolster our domestic medical product supply chain — both for this pandemic, and for future ones. For me, this is not a new concern. Before the coronavirus outbreak, I raised concerns about our country’s overreliance on foreign pharmaceutical manufacturing. If a foreign country monopolizes the production of key ingredients in the drug supply chain and wishes to retaliate against the U.S., they could cut supply and limit access to critical medications. This would put American lives at risk. We all know there will be more work to do in the coming weeks. Working together we can overcome these challenges.
I recently met with Umatilla County and Tribal public health officials to discuss the challenges they’ve faced with the diagnosis of a coronavirus patient. We had a positive, productive discussion about what was working and what wasn’t. In southern Oregon, I sat down with local health officials from Jackson and Josephine counties as well. We’re continuing to reach out to local, state, and tribal officials as well as county health authorities, doctors, and hospitals to get the answers and help they need. Our local health departments are on the front lines of this outbreak. Hearing directly from them about what they are encountering and what they need is an important part of combating this outbreak.
In addition to the funding the House has passed, the CDC has also awarded Oregon a combined total of nearly $7.8 million to help combat the outbreak. This funding will help our local and state health officials mitigate and contain the disease.
Last year, we passed a reauthorization of the Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act. This bill modernized our systems for dealing with the spread of diseases like coronavirus. We’re also fully funding these efforts; despite rumors to the contrary, the budgets of the CDC and NIH have increased by 10% and 22%, respectively, since 2017.
America’s top scientists, including researchers at the CDC and NIH, are working around the clock to develop a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. The first trial is now underway in Seattle. In 2016, we worked across the aisle to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which accelerates the approval process for this kind of lifesaving research. However, even under perfect circumstances, this process could take another year to complete.
In the meantime, the best way to protect yourself and your family is to adhere to basic preventative techniques like frequently washing your hands, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and staying home if you are not feeling well. If you are sick, stay home and stay in contact with your health care provider. If you haven’t already, get the flu shot.
Right now, there are still many constituents traveling abroad, however, with the new and increasing travel restrictions here and abroad it’s getting more and more difficult for them to return home. My staff and I are working hard to help ensure constituents who are traveling in foreign countries are able to safely get back home. If you or a loved one is traveling abroad, please register with STEP: https://step.state.gov/step. This will help connect you with immediate information from the Embassy. Additionally, if you need help with returning home or any federal agency, please reach out to my office at 800-533-3303. My staff is available and ready to assist you with problems you are having with federal agencies, and my office will do everything in our power to get results for you.
I am in constant contact with local and federal official and will continue to provide updates on my COVID-19 resource page. Additionally, you can stay updated by following my Twitter @RepGregWalden or my Facebook page @RepGregWalden.
Additional Resources for COVID-19 (Corona Virus)
- What You Should Know (CDC)
- World Health Organization Information on COVID-19
- Oregon Health Authority COVID-19
- Guides for childcare programs and K-12 administrators
- Create a Household Plan for COVID-19
- Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker
- CDC’s Travel Health Notices
- State Department’s International Travel Guidance
- State Department and Country Advisories