Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted on Thursday, March 19. We’re able to bring it to you now. Several Chronicle staff members submitted questions. Then-News Editor Gordon Woodworth conducted the phone interview. Here are excerpts. Again, this is from March 19.
Mark Frost: Can people in this district be confident that needed health care will be available if they get COVID-19?
Rep. Stefanik: Yes. I am in touch with hospitals and county public health officials on an hourly basis and our communities have been tremendous in terms of stepping up, and our health-care providers and physicians and nurses are really at the tip of the spear when it comes to tackling this crisis. I want to commend them for their exceptional work and one key aspect of the federal legislation that was just signed into law is testing is free for individuals who are insured, on Medicaid, on Medicare, or uninsured. Testing is free for 100% of Americans.
Mark: Can the economy withstand the massive shutdown, layoffs, and the stock market meltdown?
Stefanik: It’s going to be a challenging time. This is unprecedented for everyone. For the federal government, for elected officials, for small businesses. It’s a challenge but the small steps we take today can have significant positive consequences in stemming the growth of this virus.
There is no question that there already are significant economic impacts with the losses of hourly wages, with people out of work, with kids home from school and therefore parents having to stay home with the kids. We need to provide relief to the working people in this country who are bearing the brunt of this.
Mark: Didn’t the President say everyone who wanted to be tested could be? Has that promise been fulfilled?
Stefanik: It’s important to follow the guidelines by public health officials. We want to prioritize testing of those who are sick or those who are exposed, to individuals who have coronavirus. I think that’s the smart way to address this, to test those who we know most need the test at that time.
Gordon: Where are you now?
Stefanik: I’m in Saratoga County. I was in Washington. The House passed in a fervent, very fast manner to pass our bipartisan bill. We did that after midnight from Friday to Saturday. And as you know, multiple members of Congress have tested positive for coronavirus so we are following CDC guidelines and back in our districts across the country, and I’ve been spending my long days on the phone with small businesses calling in, constituents calling in, participating in county public health task forces, talking to hospital CEOs.
Yesterday, one of the big challenges was the announcement the northern border would be temporarily closed. I ensured that our healthcare workers were exempt, the Canadians that are on the NAFTA or H1B visas, that was based upon a conversation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, to make sure we got that taken care of immediately so that our hospitals have the work force.
So it’s a frenetic pace but I think in times of crisis, it’s important to be calm and educate the public and make sure that you are answering all of the incoming questions because people are calling with a lot of uncertainties and one of many ways we’ve been able to support this district is I’ve had calls with all of the county Offices of the Aging.
Our most vulnerable population are the seniors in this district, making sure their meals are continuing to get delivered. We’ve worked with those county agencies as we’ve transitioned to grocery shopping for seniors who are nervous about leaving their homes. So it’s an all hands on deck and everyone in this community has stepped up. What I’m amazed at every day is we truly have heroes among us every single day in this community. Whether it’s the bus drivers delivering food to kids who are at home, driving hundreds of miles every day to do so, or whether it’s our doctors and nurses.
Gordon: Have you been tested?
Stefanik: I have not been tested. I do not have any symptoms. I’m following the advice of the head physician for Congress as well as CDC. I was not exposed to the two members who tested positive.
Our office was pretty forward-leaning in understanding that this was going to be a public health crisis. We started rotating and tele-working. My staff is all working but we put into place tele-working procedures as well as mitigated the number of non-constituents coming in and out of the office so we were there to serve constituents of this district but try to lower the amount of non-constituent contact.
Gordon: I’m sure you saw the latest data from the CDC about the percentage of positive tests from people ages 20 to 54. Did that surprise you and what does that lead you to say to some of the younger people who may not be taking this advice seriously?
Stefanik: No matter what your age, you should take this advice seriously. As a young person, you need to show leadership on behalf of frankly our greatest generation, our seniors, who are very vulnerable to this virus. Our young people need to follow the guidance from CDC and need to step up. This is a whole-of-nation public health crisis, and everyone can help stem the growth of this disease. So I’m very dismayed at seeing some of the photos and online content of young people who are not following the guidance for social distancing. They need to, and this needs to be taken seriously.
Cathy DeDe: What about shortages? Toilet paper? Sanitizers. People are very concerned.
Stefanik: It’s important to stay calm. It’s important to purchase what you need and not panic. So it’s important to make sure that we have faith in our supply chain. Our grocers have been doing a tremendous job. I commend our local companies, Price Chopper and others, who are really working hard 24/7 to make sure that they are able to re-stock their shelves and also maintain hygiene standards in their stores. They are also instituting seniors-only shopping times, which is smart and creative and innovative and important to allow seniors to get what they need.
But be smart about it. And again, make sure you’re not wasting anything. You’re not wasting fresh produce. And I have faith in our farmers, our growers and our food manufacturers in this country. They are able to meet the demands of today.
Cathy: Are there concerns about maintaining order if and as things progress with this virus?
Stefanik: You know, I think it’s incredibly important to stay calm and stay vigilant and again follow the guidance of the CDC. Check up on your loved ones and family members over the phone. It’s especially uncertain for seniors right now, and it’s important to maintain that connection, even if it’s calls a few times a day to your loved ones….That’s all important in these times of uncertainty.
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