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Column: The next steps in our COVID-19 response

To the Valley News
Published: 6/19/2020 10:10:22 PM
Modified: 6/19/2020 10:10:10 PM


Our country is having a much-needed and overdue conversation about systemic racism following the killing of George Floyd. But as we engage in the important work of trying to address racial injustice, we must also stay focused on the ongoing public health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

While we know the virus will remain a threat until a vaccine is available, we can avoid returning to the most dire moments of this crisis — and can reinvigorate our economy — if we continue to work together and if the federal government does its job to ensure that we have the resources we need to care for Americans and rebuild our economy.

We must start with taking personal responsibility for reducing the risk of transmission. That means not going out when you might be sick, trying to stay home more than you normally would, including working from home if you have the option, continuing to practice social distancing and wearing a mask when you can’t follow the recommended social-distancing guidance.

But this alone won’t contain the virus. Even today, months into the pandemic, the administration hasn’t presented a coherent plan to ensure adequate supply of critical personal protective equipment. What we need is a comprehensive strategy to manufacture and distribute equipment and testing supplies, which are all necessary to minimize the impact of COVID-19. As a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight over the Federal Emergency Management Agency, I will continue pushing for a plan to ensure that we have the supplies and equipment to get us through this pandemic and to distribute a vaccine when it is available.

We also need robust testing and contact tracing. But here again the administration has not delivered, leaving states to fill the void. Currently, anyone in New Hampshire who wants a test can schedule one online at, which is progress. However, experts tell us that to keep front-line workers and patients in hospitals and nursing homes safe, as well as to safely reopen schools, child care centers and businesses, we will need far more testing that can only be achieved with a national testing and contact tracing strategy.

However, that won’t help if people have to go to work when they are infected, or if their workplace doesn’t have safe procedures in place. Many families can’t afford unpaid days off. Congress must build on efforts to help employers expand paid leave so every worker can access it if they believe that they have COVID-19, or if public health officials recommend self-isolation. Employers must also do their part by ensuring a safe working environment.

Taking these steps will make our homes and businesses safer, which will make people more comfortable resuming work and economic activity. But to fully reopen, we will need to ensure families have access to child care and schools.

We also need to continue to partner with hard-hit small employers in their recovery. It is clear many need additional flexibility with the relief funds Congress provided and additional help to recover. That is why I was glad to see that the president signed into law bipartisan legislation to give small employers more flexibility in using the funds provided to them through the Paycheck Protection Program. However, we must also recognize that many can’t safely reopen or will have to operate at reduced capacity for the foreseeable future. And we won’t be able to fully resume economic activity until we can find solutions to help them stay afloat.

Finally, we must do everything we can to avoid additional job losses and economic devastation. We have praised the efforts of teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers and other front-line workers. We need them now more than ever. But experts at Moody’s Analytics expect that, without additional support for state and local governments, 3 million public employees will be laid off in the coming year. Not only will we lose desperately needed services, but those job losses will inflict further damage on local economies as states cut contracts and cancel construction projects. If Republicans in Congress and the president continue to refuse to provide additional funding and flexibility for states and communities, it will make an already dire economic situation worse. We need to come together on a bipartisan basis to pass into law this necessary support.

We have an enormous task ahead of us. The chairman of the Federal Reserve — who does not frequently weigh in on what steps Congress should take — has said that if we do not make another major investment to shore up the economy, we are at serious risk of long-term damage that would take us years to recover from. We must act. I will keep doing everything I can to push for the additional and significant congressional action that our people, businesses and economy so desperately need.

Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, represents New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate.

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