COVID-19 Pandemic Update

Posted by Garret Wassermann on March 25, 2020 · 17 mins read

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) testing is underway finally in Allegheny County, and the early results show that the first positive test results in Allegheny County outside of Pittsburgh are CLUSTERED AROUND the 45th DISTRICT IN THE WEST (where I am running for state representative): Carnegie is in the district, and Imperial, Crescent, Sewickley all are very nearby.

I believe our focus needs to be on SAVING LIVES. If a large segment of the population becomes ill with COVID-19 all at once, our hospitals will be overwhelmed and lack the equipment to properly treat people. As a result, we’re looking at thousands of deaths locally, and millions across the country, in the next few weeks if we do not take action NOW. Really, action should have started weeks ago, but we must do everything we can now to limit the death toll. The “stay-at-home” order and other acts are designed to try to limit the spread and death toll. If you’ve seen the term “flatten the curve”, that’s referring to this idea of limiting the spread so our doctors and nurses can save lives rather than being overwhelmed with new patients all at once and unable to keep up.

While it is true that elderly and immune-compromised people, and people with pre-existing lung conditions like asthma, are the hardest hit, there are reports of severe illness and even death of younger people with no pre-existing conditions as well – sure, much more rare, but it still happens. The only way to really be safe is to do everything you can to prevent exposure and spread of the virus.

What everyone can do to SAVE LIVES:

  • Stay home as much as you can. Work from home via the Internet as much as possible. Governor Wolf has actually ordered Allegheny County to stay at home for at least two weeks to try to contain the virus.
  • If you must go out, stick to the “6 foot rule” – always keep at least 6 feet between yourself and other people. Avoid direct contact and especially large groups of people.
  • If you’re not going out for an essential reason, like food, medicine, or to a job, or an emergency, you shouldn’t be going out and should stay home. If you’re getting food, try to avoid unnecessary travel: stock up on items in one trip, rather than making multiple trips.
  • You’re not under house arrest: grill in the backyard, enjoy the weather, just stay away from other people outside of your household.
  • Check up on family and friends using technology: phone calls, and even video calls. Try not to meet up with anyone outside your household.
  • If you feel like you may be developing symptoms, or were exposed to someone that is showing symptoms, testing is available at several locations around the county. Drive-thru options exist to limit direct contact and exposure. You should notify your primary doctor and get professional advice first though, if possible.
  • If you or someone you know needs help, please consider this list of ways to give or receive help.

Our doctors and nurses are on the front lines of this fight with COVID-19, and deserve our utmost respect and heartfelt thank yous. One of the best ways to help them right now is to STAY HOME. The more people get sick at one time, the more hospitals and emergency rooms are flooded, the more our doctors and nurses are overwhelmed, and the more likely it will be that people will die because of lack of medical supplies. UPMC medical staff have already voiced concern about being overwhelmed, without the necessary supplies or information to do their job. Speaking of, state and federal officials need to make it a top priority to manufacture and get more medical supplies to our hospitals. This includes face masks and ventilators. There are concerning reports that hospitals and states don’t have enough ventilators and supplies and are fighting each other over supplies; now is not the time for competition, which will leave millions dead, but rather cooperation to save as many people as possible by producing more. If the market can’t handle that, then it’s time to consider eminent domain and nationalizing production of medical supplies to meet the need and save lives.

Medical professionals and workers in essential services – grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacists, truck drivers, or one of the many jobs saving people and keeping us going – thank you so much. YOU DESERVE SO MUCH MORE. I believe all of you deserve:

  • Safety equipment. Disinfectant, face masks, whatever. Employers should do whatever they can to protect workers. Sanitation workers are already striking for better protective gear, I support them and demand officials do what it takes to protect workers.
  • Paid medical/sick leave. You might get sick, and need to take time off to recover. You shouldn’t need to worry if you’ll still have a job if you take time off. Also, even if you personally aren’t sick, you may have a loved one that needs help. You should be able to take care of them too.
  • Bonuses, “hazard pay”, whatever you want to call it. You were working at risk when we needed you.
  • Medical professionals especially deserve all their medical school debt forgiven, no question. But let’s extend it to all workers – end student debt forever and that’ll stimulate the economy for sure while helping people get back on their feet.
  • Everyone deserves a living wage – and to be clear, a living wage is $20 an hour in this region. You should be getting immediate raises.

Everyone else should be working from home if at all possible. I recognize many jobs must be done in person and cannot be done via computer remotely over the Internet; for all those displaced and temporarily unemployed, you deserve everything you need to get through the crisis at home without the need to go out and risk spreading a very contagious and serious virus.

Workers that have been told to stay home or lost their jobs (and really all workers anyway) deserve the following:

  • Unemployment insurance, general assistance, food stamps. Please apply for these programs NOW – you can apply for unemployment online right now, and find more information on how to receive mortgage or rent help. I support expanding the payments to help you cover needed costs. Some combination of programs to ensure folks are getting at least the equivalent of that living wage of $20 per hour.
  • Single payer healthcare. COVID-19 is showing us how ridiculous the idea of attaching healthcare to our employers is; as soon as we lose our jobs, we also lose our coverage! No more. There is a proposal to make a statewide, comprehensive single payer healthcare plan, I urge legislators to pass it immediately. I would be pushing this bill in the General Assembly very hard right now if I were elected.
  • Housing. There is already a moratorium on evictions at least through April 3rd because the courts have been shut down; you cannot be legally evicted at this time. However, I do not believe it is fair for people that lost their jobs to lose their homes as soon as the crisis ends either. We need housing as a human right – completely forgive mortgage and rent payments and let folks stay in their homes. Put the homeless in vacant buildings or hotel rooms. No one should be outside on the street, especially not during a pandemic.
  • Utility shut-off moratorium. Public utilities including municipal water should NOT shut off services. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has already agreed to moratorium, but water and sewer authorities outside the city need to follow suit.
  • Free public transit. Not everyone has a car, so let’s make sure people can get the food and medicine they need even if they currently are unemployed. Thankfully, Port Authority has already begun free fares during this crisis. Please sign the petition for state and federal assistance to cover the fares!

All of this must continue for the duration of the pandemic crisis. We cannot let anyone go hungry or without needed medicine, but sending folks back to work in the middle of a pandemic is also sending them back to serious illness and risk of death. We need to maintain the distancing/at-home period, so we must also ensure people have the necessary supplies to stay home and keep it up. There’s no way around it if we want to save lives, and again, I believe saving lives must be our top priority.

Many small businesses will be impacted as well (please save lives and avoid the $300 fine by staying closed unless you are an essential business! to learn if you are an essential business, see the state guidance), and just like any other workers, small business owners deserve to have the help they need through this crisis. Individual owners of the businesses should be able to receive all the benefits as any other worker, but in addition I support:

  • Small business loans. A low/zero interest loan to keep businesses afloat until the crisis is over. If private banks are unwilling to lend at low rates, we might need to look into setting up a public bank, similar to what other states like North Dakota have done. However, there is some small business loans available via Pennsylvania right now, and you can find more information about small business loans online.
  • Single payer healthcare. If employers no longer need to spend huge amounts on healthcare premiums, it will save businesses money in the long run and help them get back on their feet.

However some groups are not able to willingly go and shelter at home – this includes everyone in the county jail, state prisons, and ICE “detention centers” (really, concentration camps) for immigrants. These people are held in close quarters, often in unsanitary conditions to begin with – the perfect breeding ground for viruses and illnesses like COVID-19. No one deserves to receive a death sentence thanks to the virus, especially when so many are being held for non-violent, civil offenses at worst, and sometimes are even completely innocent and simply have not had a trial yet cannot afford bail while waiting for a verdict. I support the following actions to prevent a COVID-19 humanitarian crisis in jails and prisons:

  • Let people out of the county jail. It’s been previously reported that 80% of the Allegheny County jail is innocent people who could not afford bail and have not yet had a trial, or folks serving time in jail because of technical (non-criminal, non-violent probation offenses) reasons. They all need to be sent home IMMEDIATELY. There is County Council legislation on the table to release them, but unfortunately most council members voted to put it in committee rather than take swift action. I am concerned this will the result in the deaths of many innocents.
  • Let people out of Berks detention center. Governor Wolf can immediately issue an emergency removal order (ERO) due to Coronavirus but so far has not, leaving many immigrant families at risk. This is outrageous; Wolf needs to take immediate ERO action.

When the pandemic crisis is finally over, which very likely is months away, many will return to their old jobs, but not all. Some jobs might never return. I support a full jobs program as part of a Green New Deal until everyone is back on their feet. No one will be left behind. We can also use the opportunity to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure to become more resilient in the face of any future crisis.

The type of Green New Deal I support, which may be different from what you’ve heard in the news, is the original Green Party Green New Deal and includes:

  • Green infrastructure and renewable energy jobs. As I said, everyone that lost their job during the pandemic should be able to easily find a job in the new green economy. Let’s not invest in the fossil fuel industry that polluted our air and gave our children asthma and cancer that made us susceptible to respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. Instead, we can invest in other infrastructure: roads and bridges, municipal drinking water systems, public transportation, public schools, public Internet providers (we see how important it is for work from home and e-commerce now! it’s no longer a luxury), and of course a modern, smart, renewable energy grid based on solar, wind, and geothermal.
  • Tuition-free college and secondary education. Let’s make all public colleges tuition free, for everyone not just 18 year olds. Send folks who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 back to school to receive new training and better jobs.
  • Single payer healthcare, with investments to build more doctor’s offices and hospitals and put them under non-profit community control rather than for-profit insurance or “big government” control. Nothing should come between you and your doctor. You deserve the best care possible. Especially when top medical officials believe Coronavirus may become a seasonal illness that comes back regularly, we need a healthcare system prepared to handle it any time it comes back.

If we all stay home and stop the spread, we can identify who is sick and will have the resources to treat them. We can get back to a more normal stance relatively quickly if we all cooperate. But the more that people unnecessarily go out and risk spreading the virus, the more likely that this crisis will go on and the more likely that MANY will die in the coming weeks.

Let’s work together and save lives.

If I can help at all, please contact me.


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