RHODE ISLAND – Thousands of Rhode Islanders heard from Congressman Jim Langevin and Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott on Tuesday night during a telephone town hall meeting on coronavirus.
The unique event allowed constituents to hear the actions and measures being put in place at the federal level, while also providing the opportunity to ask questions about the virus. Most importantly, it allowed Rhode Islanders to get answers while staying home.
Staying home and self-isolating as much as possible is crucial to limiting the spread of the disease, according to Alexander-Scott. She urges that Rhode Islanders heed Gov. Gina Raimondo’s guidance to avoid non-essential large crowds and not gather in groups of 25 people or more.
“This is the opportunity we have for everyone to do their part,” Alexander-Scott said. “We have a critical window of opportunity right now to limit the spread of disease, and we need people to be taking these measures seriously.”
A handful of community members were able to direct questions and concerns towards Langevin and Alexander-Scott regarding financial assistance and healthcare, though notably, Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D - Dist. 35, South Kingstown) was able to ask about additional testing kits and when they will be made more readily available.
“People are kind of upset that we’re not able to test in these massive waves that they see other states doing it,” Fogarty said.
Other states are in the exact same position, though, according to Alexander-Scott, due to a limitation of swabs needed to get the testing done. The labs are ready, she said, but supplies are back-ordered.
At the start of the telephone town hall meeting, Alexander-Scott explained that expedited testing is available for those who are hospitalized, live in a nursing home or congregate setting, and healthcare workers with symptoms
Testing those who do not present any symptoms is not recommended, not only for the sake of the test’s accuracy but because of limited resources as well. Currently, the Rhode Island Department of Health is testing more than 100 samples a day, according to Alexander-Scott.
As of Thursday, there are 44 cases of COVID-19 in the Ocean State. More than 330 tests are pending, and 540 individuals have already tested negative for the virus.
“For others who are interested in testing and have symptoms, we are working with our congressional delegation and our federal government, to get the swabbing kits that are needed to fully support the testing of additional populations at other laboratories,” Alexander-Scott said.
Two other South Kingstown residents had the chance to ask questions, despite the high call volume and the number of other constituents who’d hoped to get through during the hour. More than 4,000 Rhode Islanders listened in at some point during the call, according to Langevin’s Chief of Staff, Todd Adams.
The first question of the night came from a small business owner in South Kingstown, who had been informed that the additional fees she pays for business interruption coverage do not cover interruption because of the pandemic.
“I’m wondering if there’s anything at all that can be done about this,” Jane* said. “I bet I’m not the only business owner that’s disappointed with this.”
Although Langevin said he’ll have to look into her insurance question, the congressman voted in favor of an $8.3 billion emergency aid package last week in response to the virus.
The U.S. Small Business Administration approved Rhode Island’s disaster request on Tuesday, Langevin said, clearing the way for loans of up to $2 million, per business, to address business interruption.
In addition to his support for the emergency aid package, the congressman has also pushed for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which guarantees free testing for coronavirus and will extend family and medical leave benefits to workers – either under quarantine themselves, or who have to care for a sick family member or a child whose school or daycare has been closed.
The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, will also provide enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to children affected by school closures.
“Democrats and Republicans must come together to do what is right for our country, our families and our workers in the face of the challenges created by the evolving novel coronavirus situation,” Langevin said. “Communities in Rhode Island and across the country are implementing necessary preventive public health measures, but each day more people are feeling the effects of school closures, quarantines, and social distancing.”
“What’s more, many Americans, especially hourly workers, are under enormous pressure to show up at work so they can provide for their loved ones,” he added. “No one should be put in the position of having to choose between their health – and that of their co-workers – and the need to feed their family.”
On Wednesday, Langevin joined more than 100 members of Congress, calling for an immediate halt of foreclosures and evictions from federally-supported housing amid the disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
*Constituents who participated in the telephone town hall discussion were identified by their first names only.