Congressman, physician talk COVID-19 to area residents

U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, and a local health care provider fielded a flurry of questions Thursday from area residents concerning the coronavirus.

Both Keller and Dr. Rutul Dalal, medical director, infectious disease, UPMC Susquehanna, assured people during the teleconference session that government and medical professionals are working diligently to mitigate the spread of the virus and to reach out to those economically impacted by COVID-19.

Dalal stressed the need for anyone experiencing symptoms from coronavirus to contact their primary physician or other health care provider.

He also made it clear that not everyone who feels the need to be tested for COVID-19 will undergo testing.

Testing supplies at this point, he explained, are in limited supply.

But Keller said he was informed by health care officials that there is sufficient tests for those who “truly need” it.

“Area hospitals have been preparing for this for weeks,” he said. “I want everyone to remain calm and be cautious. Don’t stockpile. Listen to law enforcement.”

Dalal said everyone needs to follow standard practices to prevent infection including avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people and maintain distances from person to person of at least six feet.

“We have evidence that these measures work,” he said.

Keller responded to several callers who demanded to know why the federal government was slow to respond to COVID-19.

He said the Trump Administration took steps early on to ensure the nation was ready, including restricting travel into the U.S., setting up quarantines and initiating a coronavirus task force.

“We’d taken the steps before the World Health Organization even put a name on this virus,” he said.

A number of questions came from small business owners and how they can tap resources for relief during a time when they have been forced to close or reduce operations and lay off people.

Keller noted that different measures at the state and federal level are in the works.

Gov. Wolf’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration to the U.S. Small Business Administration, if approved, will allow small businesses to access disaster assistance loans. The money can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills unable to be paid due impacts from the coronavirus.

A $2.5 billion stimulus effort that passed Congress Wednesday includes relief for families and individuals who might need to take paid leave from work in order to care for themselves or family members. It also provides tax credits to small businesses, boosts unemployment compensation funding for those who may be laid off as a result of COVID-19’s economic impacts, increases funding to low-income nutrition assistance programs, and provides flexibility to child nutrition programs.

Keller advised those with other questions regarding relief to small business to contact the Small Business Administration or his office.

“We are looking to get relief to those businesses as soon as possible,” he said.

The lawmaker said efforts are being made to ensure no one is left out who needs help.


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