New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi held a tele-town hall with a panel of medical experts Thursday night to give constituents an opportunity to learn more about government activity and ask questions.
The remote town hall meeting was conducted over the phone, and included Dr. Stephen Thomas from SUNY Upstate Hospital, and Dr. Andrew Bushnell of Rome Memorial Hospital.
“I understand how scary this is and how desperate you are for answers and that’s why we’re holding this event tonight,” Brindisi said.
Brindisi kicked off the hour long town hall meeting by noting the continued importance of social distancing and explained that he had been exposed to the virus in the last week. So far two members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 and many others, including Brindisi himself, have decided to voluntarily self quarantine.
“Now is the time for diligence while health officials do their jobs. We all have a duty to do our part, even those who are young and healthy need to consider underlying health conditions. We are a community and we rely on everyone to do their part,” he said.
Brindisi also went over some basic medical advice outlined by the CDC, including proper hand washing techniques and social distancing. He told the audience that if they are healthy they do not need to go out and get masks, especially because the protective equipment used by medical personnel is running in short supply.
Brindisi gave the audience an overview of the measures officials in Washington are taking to help their communities as well. He reviewed the first relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which passed with strong bipartisan support.
“This bill was supported by Republicans and Democrats, and it will make sure we have free coronavirus testing, established paid emergency leave and gets critical emergency dollars to the counties across our district. In New York’s 22nd district, there are approximately 33 million dollars coming to the counties that are on the front lines really helping to respond to the public health crisis right now,” Brindisi explained.
Although political action like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act are a step in the right direction, Brindisi acknowledged that the United States is at the very beginning of this crisis.
Dr. Andrew Bushnell and Dr. Stephen Thomas together provided attendees with an update on the current state of the virus and how medical officials are approaching the response to the pandemic.
“We want to continue to provide optimal care for our patients and our community,” said Dr. Thomas.
“The way we’re doing that is we’re enlisting the services, not only of the groups in the hospital that normally provide care, but we have outfitted the primary care and ambulatory care network to the best of our ability with the proper personal protective equipment and the proper testing materials so that we don’t overrun our emergency departments and our and our hospitals.”
He explained that medical officials are also trying to increase testing for the virus locally and speed up the process to get results sooner.
Brindisi allocated most of the time during the tele-town hall for constituent questions, which ranged from how the government will support small businesses to talking to teenagers about the precautions they need to take to keep their communities healthy.
A caller named Roy said he is in his 70s and drives a Medicaid taxi service to transport people to doctor’s appointments.
“I do clean the inside of my taxi after every person I pick up and after I drop them off I use my sanitizer. Are there any other precautions I should take?” he asked.
Dr. Bushnell explained that because of his age it was more dangerous for him to be transporting people to and from medical facilities.
“You’re at an increased risk for severe illness, you probably should consider whether or not this is a line of work you are going to continue during this time when this disease is going around as a pandemic,” Dr. Bushnell said. “There’s really not a way that you can not breathe the air that someone might be emitting in your small car that you’re driving. You’re in an enclosed environment and so this is a risk for you.”
Dr. Thomas agreed, saying he would “recommend that you don’t do that activity anymore.”
Another caller named Rebecca said she has a teenage son and wanted to know if he could meet with friends.
“I’ve seen very different things online saying that teenagers could congregate in small groups safely and I wanted to know if that is accurate or if it’s best to remain inside the home?”
Dr. Thomas said even though young people are less likely to get severe cases of the virus, it’s clear that they are able to spread it even without displaying obvious symptoms.
“Any kind of any kind of congregating between people if someone is infected, they will be able to give it to another person. Now that other person, they may not become ill but they could come home and they could infect somebody else,” he said.
“So the idea with social distancing is to try to reduce the number of opportunities for one person to infect another.”
Dr. Bushnell also responded to the question noting his own teenage children have wanted to be able to spend time with friends since schools have closed.
“My kids have the ability to turn on Netflix and reunite with their friends but they are not socializing with their friends outside the house and their friends are not coming to our house. We are basically isolating from other families,” he said. “This is how we all stay safe.”
As the virus continues to spread throughout the United States officials in Washington are working on more legislation to provide relief. Brindisi explained that he will be working from home to make sure Congress passes bills that provide more resources to medical workers and supports small business and rural economies as well.
“You know that we’re in this fight together. Coronavirus knows no political party, and it’s something we have to work together to address. As always, I’m here to serve you,” Brindisi said.