With financial fears, healthcare concerns, and rumors spreading across the state and the nation, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) held a telephone town hall to answer constituents’ questions and provide up-to-date information.
The virtual town hall, held this afternoon, also featured a panel of health care experts to answer questions.
Dr. Mark Learned, Vice President of Primary Care and Urgent Care at Kaiser Permanente Colorado, provided the latest information on the coronavirus and its behavior:
“This particular coronavirus is new and different, and is more infectious than the average coronavirus. …It’s more infectious than seasonal flu; it’s actually more infectious than ebola, even,” said Learned. “It’s on par with what was called the Spanish flu… What the world went through in 1918 is very similar to what we’re going through right now.”
“[COVID-19] is mainly transmitted by droplets. It’s not an airborne disease, which is a fine point, but an important point,” Learned said.
“We know that if you live your regular life, and you’re infected, you will go on to infect over 400 people in the span of a month,” Learned pointed out. “But with the kinds of social distancing measures we’ve put into place, that number falls to only two and a half people in a month.”
In response to a question about whether there would be universal testing available soon that would indicate exposure to the coronavirus in individuals, Learned cautioned that “there is debate as to whether or not an antibody test can accurately predict your level of immunity…” and that Colorado lacks testing resources already.
“This is going to be a frustrating and stubborn virus to tamp out, and while we won’t have to maintain these kind of severe social distancing and shelter at home measures indefinitely,” said Learned, “it’s not unlikely that we would see this virus have some kind of resurgence with cold and flu season in coming years, because short of a vaccine, it’s going to be very hard to eradicate this virus. And we’re probably at least 12 to 18 months away from a vaccine.”
For those hoping to learn where Colorado currently resides along the COVID-19 curve, and when the economy might reopen, Learned stated that case testing provides much less reliable data than death statistics, because not everyone can be tested. In contrast, mortality rates are much easier to record.
“…In Colorado, we’ve had several days of declining death rates… That tells us that we might be approaching the peak, and that we might actually be in the surge,” said Learned.
However, Learned did go on to say that because the incubation period of the virus is 14 days, the lag on statistics is two weeks–so it’s too soon to say if Colorado is in the peak of the curve.
“What we would hate to do is declare victory too soon, open things up, and then experience what China did, which is a second, more severe peak, and then you have to close everything back down again,” Learned said. “What we know from pandemic data from history is, you do less economic damage if you do it once, and if you do it for a little longer on the front end, and then you’re truly done, that’s better for the community and for the economy, than if you open prematurely and have to close again.”
As for the ventilator shortage in the state, Bennet acknowledged that Colorado doesn’t have enough ventilators as models suggest are needed.
Fortunately, according to Bennet, governors are beginning to cooperate with each other to move ventilators where they are needed, rather than competing with each other.
Many of Bennet’s comments concerned the massive $2 trillion stimulus package passed.
According to Bennet, Charles P. Rettig, the IRS Commissioner, told him this morning that individuals may start receiving their stimulus money next week if they have done direct deposit with the IRS before. Bennet encouraged his constituents to check the IRS website frequently.
Bennet also addressed the issue of mortgages and living situations, a struggle that may bring up memories of the 2008 recession for many people.
“Ideally, we would figure out a way to freeze the economy… We have put in place prohibitions on foreclosures and evictions across federally-backed mortgages and federally-supported rental properties,” said Bennet. “We would have made it broader, but for other mortgages or rental properties, there was a worry about legal challenges.”
Bennet added that there are state-level policies in many states prohibiting foreclosures and evictions, and that ideally, the direct financial assistance from the stimulus bill will aid individuals in paying rent and mortgages.
Bennet was asked by a constituent how the government planned to fund the massive stimulus package passed, as well as any future packages. Bennet’s response was blunt:
“I believe this is a moment where we have to spend money… in order for our economy to recover,” said Bennet. “If we don’t, I think we’ll pitch into a depression much worse to recover from… How are we paying for it? We’re not. We’re borrowing the money; mostly borrowing the money from the Chinese, and we are not in a good position to be doing this. The last 20 years, we have borrowed $5.6 trillion from the Chinese to fund the wars that we’ve had in the Middle East. We didn’t pay for any of that money–we borrowed it. In fact, not only did we not pay for it, we cut the taxes mostly on the wealthiest Americans.”
In addition to the stimulus package, Bennet noted that he sent a letter to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) requesting Colorado-centered improvements to the stimulus bill.
Today’s town hall panel also featured Greg Stasinos, Response and Operations Section Chief for the Colorado Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response; Jerene Peterson, Chief Impact Officer for Mile High United Way; and Mark Crisman, Contact Center Supervisor for the Colorado Health Emergency Line for the Public.