Lawmakers support regional approach to reopening economy

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Border congressman contributes to bipartisan group setting benchmarks to bring COVID-19 pandemic under control

Expanded rapid testing should be a major part of the national strategy to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control in the United States, a bipartisan group of legislators said today. (AP file photo)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for opening the economy, says a bipartisan group of legislators, but there are health and safety markers each region can meet to get people back to work.

“We’re fighting the virus and fighting to get back to work,” U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, said today at the unveiling of the COVID-19 “Back to Work” checklist proposed by 25 Democratic and 25 Republican members of the House.

“This will require a regional, industry-by-industry, incremental, multi-faceted, and data-driven approach. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all vision, but rather a dynamic multi-prong, multi-front strategy combining health, economic rescue, and stimulus plans for our nation’s immediate future,” said Gottheimer, co-chair of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus.

The six-page plan calls for protocols to expand testing for COVID-19, address viral hotspots, establish a contact-tracing database and real-time data reporting hospital capacity and projection of needs for health care staff, personal protective equipment, ventilators and respirators.

The legislators stressed that each of their districts are very different from each other but that each community can meet the goals on its own timeline. They also urged putting partisan politics aside.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

“This is not over, far from it,” said U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who represents Far East El Paso. “But reopening the economy should be a health-first approach, not a politics-first approach. We need to make sure we’re following best-practice protocols.”

Hurd said coronavirus cases are still on the rise in his district, which runs from El Paso to the San Antonio metro area and includes hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. But there are other districts which may be in a better position to achieve the proposed best-practices sooner and should be allowed to reopen their businesses when they do, he said.

Hurd said people should get used to changes in the post-COVID-19 era. He cited as an example the pat-downs and shoe-removal practices put in place after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“There will be changes like that before we get back to normal,” he said.

The legislators’ public health checklist includes:

  • Extinguishing viral hotspots.
  • Implement expanded, robust rapid COVID-19 testing.
  • Trace those people whom the infected had contact.
  • Provide an adequate chain of personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders and front-line health care workers, and make it available to schools when classes resume.
  • Having businesses and workplaces reconfigure their buildings and personnel to ensure social distancing, clean shared spaces (restaurants, theaters, buses and airplanes will need to follow stricter standards to operate from now on).
  • Require the Department of Homeland Security to adopt medically-based, evidence-driven standards to stop travel to and from infected countries.
  • Prioritize the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The economic recovery checklist includes:

  • Establishing a reliable supply chain, away from hot spots overseas and, if possible, in the United States.
  • Expanding low-interest loans and tax breaks for businesses.
  • Fund retraining and job placement programs for workers displaced by business closings as a result of the pandemic.
  • Invest in public infrastructure.
  • Support continued economic stimulus programs and consider additional stimuli.

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