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by Sharon Rondeau

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Twitter

(Mar. 21, 2020) — On Friday night at 7:00 p.m. EDT, Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D) conducted a telephone townhall for constituents about the coronavirus crisis during which he spoke for approximately 20 minutes and took questions.

He said as of that time, Connecticut had reported close to 200 confirmed cases and four deaths.  As of Saturday morning, the total number of illnesses stands at 194.

After thanking Connecticut residents for “stepping up” in the wake of the national emergency, Murphy said the situation “is a crisis that cannot be managed by government alone.”  He said that the government is taking “every day more extraordinary measures to stop the transmission of the coronavirus, and that requires a lot of sacrifice on behalf of the people of the state, people all across the country.”

He thanked Gov. Lamont for his response to the national emergency.  On March 10, Lamont declared a “public health emergency” in Connecticut followed by successive executive orders reducing business activity and social gatherings. On Monday evening, a “Stay safe, stay home” executive order goes into effect whereby “all non-essential businesses and not-for-profit entities in Connecticut” must cease “all in-person functions if they are able to.”

Connecticut will join California, Illinois and New York States in that regard.  The latest order, Lamont declared, is effective “through April 22, 2020, unless earlier modified, extended, or terminated by me…”

“I have been disappointed, to say the least, with President Trump’s performance,” Murphy continued, “but here in Congress, as you will hear, we are trying to take the politics out of this crisis response; Republicans and Democrats are coming together to pass legislation that will assist us in Connecticut and across the country.”

Murphy explained that the increased rate of testing for coronavirus has resulted in a dramatic increase in known cases nationally.  He opined that “That’s why tests are so important.  it’s so egregious that it’s taken us this long to get up to the point where today, in Connecticut, we can be doing about 1,000 tests on a daily basis.”

As he did in a newsletter on Friday, Murphy reported Lamont’s “stay at home” order, which he said “asks residents of the state to stay in their homes except for essential services: filling up a tank of gas, going out and getting groceries.  I hope people in Connecticut will observe that order; the only way we stop the spread of the virus is to essentially socially distance ourself through these extreme measures.” [sic]

As for the situation in the Washington, DC, Murphy said, “The administration has finally, finally begun to use the Defense Production Act in order to commandeer the nation’s manufacturing resources to start producing the tests, the protective personal equipment, the ventilators that are right now in very dangerous short supply. Again, this should have been done literally  a month or two ago, but we are now going to try to ramp up so that we don’t continue to have the massive shortages that exist today in our health care system.”

He detailed the $8.3 billion relief package which includes “sick pay” for coronavirus victims and caretakers, among other provisions.  he said the “third emergency relief bill,” currently under discussion in the Senate, “will be the biggest of the three…I’ve made two major proposals that I hope will be included in that bill.  The first is a cash payment to every American citizen of middle and lower income.  I really believe you have to go big…”  Murphy explained that his proposal includes two “rounds” of cash payouts, if necessary, in the amount of $2,000 for each adult and child. He said he believes the amounts the administration and Republicans have proposed are too small to “move the needle on the economy.”

Shortly before the call began, Murphy said, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) proposed a “massive small-business grant program to try to keep alive the tens of thousands of small businesses” affected by the coronavirus emergency.  “We think we are beyond the point of loans,” Murphy said.  The plan is detailed on his Facebook page.

He said the third relief bill may pass the Senate over the weekend.  The U.S. House of Representatives was out of session last week.

The senator said his staff are “teleworking” but that his office is available to assist Connecticut residents who may have relatives “stuck abroad” or who wish to share “ideas or input on legislation.”

“There is going to be economic pain” to transcend the health emergency, Murphy said, but “We are the United States of America.  We are strong enough to be able to come together and figure this out…”

He then took questions from listeners, the first of which inquired as to more extensive coronavirus testing, particularly among younger people who might not be considered vulnerable to the disease. To that, Murphy responded that the capability of testing everyone does not yet exist, hence the need for everyone to self-quarantine as much as possible.  He said that currently, a physician’s order is required to be tested.  The “next step,” he said, is to conduct “aggressive temperature checks” as have been done in South Korea and China.

He then faulted the administration for “making a mistake” by rejecting the World Health Organization (WHO)’s testing protocol.  “It’s why we’re where we are today,” Murphy said.  “We just made a mistake…they should have taken the WHO test; instead they said, ‘The CDC will develop their own.  The CDC could not develop a test quick enough, and we are in a situation today where we are way behind the rest of the world, and we’re trying to make up for lost time.”

Murphy’s contentions echoed a March 6 report in Politico which states, in part:

Why the United States declined to use the WHO test, even temporarily as a bridge until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could produce its own test, remains a perplexing question and the key to the Trump administration’s failure to provide enough tests to identify the coronavirus infections before they could be passed on, according to POLITICO interviews with dozens of viral-disease experts, former officials and some officials within the administration’s health agencies.

The slowness of the testing regimen — which, administration officials acknowledged this week, is still not producing enough tests to meet the national demand — was the first, and most sweeping, of many failures. So far there have been confirmed cases in at least 23 states, and at least 15 deaths, while the stock market plunged and an otherwise healthy economy braced for a major disruption.

Also on March 6, Trump said, “”Anybody that wants a test can get a test,.  That’s what the bottom line is.”

The CDC’s first test kits “didn’t work as designed”… “– delaying the government’s ability to detect and contain the spread of the virus,” ABC News reported on March 3.

On February 28, sciencemag.org reported:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has shipped testing kits to 57 countries. China had five commercial tests on the market 1 month ago and can now do up to 1.6 million tests a week; South Korea has tested 65,000 people so far. The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in contrast, has done only 459 tests since the epidemic began. The rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs has become a fiasco because it contained a faulty reagent. Labs around the country eager to test more suspected cases—and test them faster—have been unable to do so. No commercial or state labs have the approval to use their own tests.

In what is already an infamous snafu, CDC initially refused a request to test a patient in Northern California who turned out to be the first probable COVID19 case without known links to an infected person.

The Trump administration has said that the system in place when he took office was outdated and incapable of responding meaningfully to such a pandemic.  In recent daily press conferences, the White House Coronavirus Task Force has detailed the “public-private partnership” which has engaged private providers to administer tests.  On Saturday afternoon, Vice President Mike Pence, the administration’s Coronavirus Task Force leader, reported that “more than 195,000” Americans have been tested to date.



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