Americans are watching Congress and the Trump administration closely as many feel the need for further federal assistance is heightening with the coronavirus pandemic about to enter its eighth month.
Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.-10th) addressed this and other issues during a virtual town hall meeting with constituents Sept. 18. Joining Wexton for the call were Dr. Alison Ansher, health director in Prince William County, and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large).
Wexton said she’s spent recent months meeting with community leaders and small business owners and answering their questions about funding, safety and education concerns sparked by the pandemic.
The first-term congresswoman said she is working for securing approval for another round of relief funds, but there is pushback from the Republican-controlled Senate and the Trump administration.
“The [Trump] administration and the Senate are dead set against the second round, and we know that you guys are in desperate need of that,” Wexton said during the town hall. “The state and localities can’t engage in deficit spending the way we do at the federal government level, and at some point, you’re going to have to start laying people off.”
Randall said about 85 percent of businesses in Loudoun County are doing “pretty well,” noting the big tech and defense footprint in northern Virginia. But the “touch” industry — hotels, restaurants and retail, for example — are still struggling.
Some small businesses have received assistance through the county’s Business Interruption Fund, with more than $8 million being dished out, according to Randall.
“What we know is that it’s not going to be what the businesses would have normally made, but we hope it’s enough to carry over,” Randall said.
Wexton said the House of Representatives made provisions to relief measures during the second round to make sure small banks and lenders receive funding to assist small businesses.
Two other concerns Randall brought up is lack of funding for mass transit and how colder temperatures will impact restaurants using outdoor seating.
“As the colder months come, you can’t do that outdoor seating anymore,” Randall said. “We’re very concerned, and we are anxiously waiting, hoping, encouraging some more federal stimulus money comes, because the truth is when you have a national emergency, you need a national response.”
One constituent expressed her concerns with the COVID-19 testing. She asked if people should be tested if they are asymptomatic, why people need a physician’s order and a status update on rapid testing.
Ansher said the rapid, or antigen, test is not recommended due to accuracy concerns.
“When the federal government has provided this type of test to long-term care facilities, the recommendation is if somebody is negative, go ahead and do the more accurate test or what we call the PCR,” Ansher said. “And so, the antigen or the rapid test is not necessarily recommended if somebody does not have symptoms.”
Ansher said doctors’ notes are required at some sites and not at others, and she suggested checking with the provider ahead of time.
Some constituents questioned the need for face masks. Small business owners shared their fears over customers and employees suing them over their COVID-19 regulations and practices aimed at limiting the spread.
“We wear masks because masks save lives,” Wexton said. “That is undisputed. It is the single most important thing that we can do to cut down on the transmission of COVID. I don’t wear a mask so much to protect myself as I do to protect my friends, my colleagues and my neighbors. And I hope that they will have the same courtesy for everyone. And if everybody wears a mask, we could knock COVID down in no time.”
Ansher added, “We know it’s difficult. Even the thought of Halloween being virtual is devastating for a lot of families for who that’s a great holiday. But yet we have to think about those that are at greater risk.”
Wexton said she’s also working to allow federal workers to carry over their annual leave to 2021, getting students back into classrooms and encouraging small business owners to have clearly defined workplace protections to avoid lawsuits by customers and employees.
The congresswoman touched on medication costs and fighting price gouging.
“We shouldn’t let drug companies and medication companies jack up the prices because the need is so great,” Wexton said. “So absolutely I look forward to looking into it more if we have a bill number. I will take a look at it and see about supporting it.”
Wexton supported the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act that aims to establish a fair price negotiation program, protect the Medicare program from excessive price increases and establish an out-of-pocket maximum for Medicare part D enrollees. The House passed the measure, and it’s now awaiting action in the Senate.
Randall and Ansher noted the relatively high percent positivity rates in Loudoun and Prince William, both of which have rates higher than the statewide average. The two localities have targeted more vulnerable areas and residents with limited or no access to health care. As a result, they saw an uptick in positivity rates, the two officials said.Randall said the percent positivity rate in Loudoun was 8.4 percent as of Sept. 18. “We’d like to get that number down,” she said. “We always want that number to be lower than 5 percent.”