Last week I wrote to share resources and information from public health officials about the COVID-19 outbreak. The situation is changing rapidly and many of you have shared concerns, so I write again today to share additional updates on actions I am taking (and some you can take) to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
As of this moment, there are no confirmed cases in Virginia, and the Commonwealth is ranked among the highest states in the country for public health emergency preparedness by Trust for America’s Health. I am receiving regular updates from the Virginia Department of Health, which is focused on planning a strong public health response.
Meanwhile, I am working hard to ensure a stronger federal response to the coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, I voted for a robust spending package that will fund state and local health response, research of vaccines, public health prevention and preparedness, medical supplies, Community Health Centers, small business assistance, and more. The legislation, which passed with near-unanimous support and has already been signed into law, will devote $8.3 billion to help stop the spread of the disease and keep Americans safe.
I have also pushed hard against what I consider failures of leadership in the response, including disorganization, the sharing of disinformation, and inadequate testing capacity. This week I led 60 Representatives in a letter to the President urging him to improve communication, organization, and staffing in key public health positions. I also pushed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the testing capacity issue in a recent Ways and Means Committee hearing, and brought up the problem of disinformation with infectious disease experts at a Science Committee hearing.
I am working with colleagues on legislation to provide workers with sick leave in medical emergencies. I urge all employers to update their telework policies where it is feasible, and employees to explore their telework options. Recent guidance from the Office of Personnel Management requires federal agencies to incorporate telework into their continuity of operations plans. It is extremely important to plan ahead for whatever may come.
All of us can help prevent the spread of coronavirus by learning and sharing accurate information from the Centers for Disease Control, including symptoms, precautions, prevention tips, and knowing what to do if you are sick. Most especially, I again urge everyone to
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Stay home when you are sick
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
All of us can also help by checking on relatives of advanced age or who are particularly vulnerable due to other medical conditions, and by sharing up-to-date information and public health advisories. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself now with local health department resources. This page may also have updates on local impacts, for instance, potential disruptions in school schedules, should they occur. Most schools have or are developing emergency operations plans, and I strongly encourage students and parents to familiarize themselves with those plans now.
I will have a representative of the Fairfax County Health Department on hand at my town hall Tuesday night to help answer additional questions.
The best thing we can do right now is to make sure we are informed, prepared, and vigilant.
Should you have questions or comments, please contact staff in my District Office at (703) 658-5403 or my D.C. Office at (202) 225-4376.