On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the number of new infections in the United States could more than double to 100,000 a day if the country fails to contain the surge that is now underway in many states. The nation’s top infectious disease expert said the recent sharp rise in cases, largely in the South and the West, “puts the entire country at risk.”
“We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day,” Fauci told members of Congress. “I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned.”
Once again, we find ourselves are at a critical moment in the epidemic. The warning is real. The call for leadership is a real one.
In a matter of days, the very lawmakers who received Fauci’s warning are about to leave for a two-week break. Without taking some steps to put further protections in place, the 14-day break could prove disastrous.
Sen. Patrick Leahy on Tuesday made a plea to take up the HEROES ACT approved by the House. According to Leahy, “It is a strong proposal that provides assistance to struggling families, supports state and local governments, battles the virus by funding a responsible testing program, and recognizes the sacrifices being made by grocery store clerks, first responders, nurses, doctors, truckers and more. It makes critical changes to programs like SNAP, which support some of those among us who are struggling the most.”
In the meantime, the Senate has done nothing, despite repeated calls from Leahy and others for movement. But the White House and the Republican majority refuse to take up the bill or even start negotiations.
“Each death has left in its wake friends, family and loved ones, all devastated by a loss that can never be undone. ... We have also seen our economy grind to a halt. More than 47 million men and women have filed for unemployment. Families are struggling to pay their bills. They are worried about putting food on the table, paying their rent and caring for their children. Lines at food banks are at historic highs, including in my home state of Vermont. For many, the situation is desperate,” Leahy said from the Senate floor.
Republicans say the nation needs a pause before considering any further emergency legislation related to COVID-19.
“But while we wait, cases continue to climb, the death toll mounts, and people continue to struggle,” Leahy said.
He noted that at the end of July, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program expires, choking off the additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits to more than 28 million Americans. The senator said eviction protections are also at risk, potentially flooding America’s streets and shelters with even more homeless.
The Small Business Administration can no longer approve loans from the Personal Paycheck Protection (PPP) program, he said. “The fact that the economy has done as well as it has under very difficult circumstances, can be attributed in part to this program. But we are far from out of the woods,” he said.
Then there are concerns about young children (and college students) returning to school in the fall and the demands the pandemic is putting on safe child care.
“If we do nothing else before the Senate goes out of session, we should do what all the experts agree is needed if we are going to defeat this virus: create a comprehensive testing and contact-tracing program and provide the resources needed to implement it. This is how other countries have succeeded in flattening the curve and containing the spread.”
But Leahy’s call seems to be falling on deaf ears.
He is right to lash out.
“Delay makes no one safer, does nothing to box in the virus, and does nothing to reopen the economy,” he argued. “If the president can’t or won’t show leadership, Congress must.”
The HEROES Act created the COVID-19 National Testing and Contact-Tracing Initiative, which requires the Department of Health and Human Services (in coordination with state and local governments) to develop a comprehensive testing, contact tracing, surveillance and monitoring system, and it provides $75 billion to implement it.
Americans need protections and assurances right now that someone at the highest levels of the country is looking out for them. Reach out to Sens. Leahy and Bernie Sanders and let them know that you share the sentiment that something needs to be done. Yesterday.