Congressman Fred Keller, R-12th District, held a tele-townhall with constituents last week to field questions about the federal government’s response to COVID-19.
On hand to answer health-related questions was Dr. Rutul Dalal, an infectious disease expert from UPMC Williamsport.
Before taking questions on March 17, Keller told listeners that weeks before the World Health Organization even gave COVID-19 a name, the U.S. government had already “sprung into action to protect American citizens.”
He also outlined the action Congress has since taken in a bipartisan fashion, including providing $8.3 billion in funding to federal agencies for COVID-19 emergency response in “phase one” and ensuring paid leave for some workers and free COVID-19 testing in “phase two.”
Keller said “phase three” was forthcoming, with plans to provide direct aid to households and businesses. It has since hit a roadblock, with Senate Democrats saying the plan didn’t provide enough protections for workers or restrictions for bailed-out businesses.
During the townhall, one constituent asked Keller if the stimulus package is an example of socialism, and whether he supports socialist acts in certain situations.
Keller responded that the government has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its people and the continuation of commerce, and he doesn’t view helping people during trying times through no fault of their own as socialism.
“I look at that as America doing what we do best, and that’s looking out for our friends and neighbors and making sure that when we come through this, we are stronger for it,” he said.
Keller also heard questions related to Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest announcement that all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania would need to close their physical locations until further notice, with enforcement actions planned for those out of compliance.
With the announcement being rather recent, Keller planned to seek out answers and ensure the Wolf administration remains clear about its intentions, as the governor’s previous announcement regarding business restrictions caused confusion.
He later wrote to Gov. Wolf, calling on him to immediately rescind the order.
“While protecting public safety is government’s top priority, your sweeping order disregards the guidance set forth by public health officials and puts at risk our long-term economic security,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dalal told constituents feeling COVID-19 symptoms to contact their primary health care provider, who will instruct them on the next steps. Symptoms include fever, coughing, tiredness and shortness of breath.
With limited test kits available, health care providers have been prioritizing those with a higher likelihood of having the virus, he said.
“We anticipate most patients will not need to get admitted and will recover at home,” he said. “Around 85 to 90 percent of patients will just have symptoms such as the common cold and the flu, and they should recover without any long term side effects.”
Dalal reminded the public to continue following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including social distancing, avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people and frequent handwashing. Even though most people won’t experience the worst of this virus, he said it’s important to protect vulnerable groups such as the sick and elderly.
Additional questions can be directed to Keller’s offices in Tunkhannock, Selinsgrove, Williamsport and Washington, D.C. To reach his Tunkhannock office on 181 West Tioga Street, Suite 2, call 570-996-6550. Visit keller.house.gov online for more information.