Four-term Democrat Anne McLane Kuster says a series of CDC-related events set the country back dramatically when it comes to fighting the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“So what we tried to do here in New Hampshire is adjust to the reality on the ground,” she said, commending state officials who attempted testing in the early stages. “But they were quickly overwhelmed in that lab,” she said, speaking on The Exchange. Kuster represents the second Congressional District in New Hampshire.
(To hear the full Exchange conversation with Congresswoman Kuster, click here.
Excerpted comments in this story have been edited slightly for clarity)
Kuster said New Hampshire should see an uptick in its test supply, however, with the arrival of a new test developed by Dartmouth-Hitchcock. But tests alone aren't sufficient. “In order to do the testing, you need the appropriate swabs, the vials, the medium, and the personal protective equipment that is in short supply to take the samples and process the testing,” she said.
Widespread testing needed but not yet in gear.
In New Hampshire, as in other parts of the country, testing focuses on certain groups, such as health care and public health professionals, first responders, and people exhibiting symptoms.
“What we're not able to do here is the broad testing of the whole community, and that's unfortunate. That would be desirable. There are countries that have taken that approach, “ she said. “Because then you can isolate the people you know who are ill.”
The biggest challenge, Kuster said, “is the fact that people are contagious when they are asymptomatic, when they are not showing any symptoms. And that's why it's so important to stay at home if possible, work from home, study from home so we can isolate ourselves because we don't know who's contagious until it's too late.”
That kind of uncertainty has contributed to support for shelter-in-place or stay-at-home directives that have spread around the country in cities and states – to minimize to the greatest extent possible social interaction.
Gov. Chris Sununu is so far urging social distancing, maintaining a distance of six feet between individuals, rather than issuing a “stay-at-home” order, which allows people to leave home only for essential outings. He has urged people to remain home and is limiting gatherings to 10 people. [UPDATE: On Thursday, March, 26, Governor Sununu changed course, issuing an emergency stay-at-home order]
This week, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a “stay home, stay safe” order, suspending all nonessential business in the state. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker stopped short of a statewide stay-at-home order, issuing an advisory instead.
Sununu said in a recent press conference he is keeping a close eye on what neighboring states are doing and that he is open to changing course if necessary.
Kuster suggested the decision is a difficult one – weighing available even if incomplete public health advice and data with the effects of economic dislocation. “Completely shutting down the whole state could be devastating for people, for their health and well being as well,” she said.
An Exchange listener, who works as a nurse and supports “shelter-in-place” for the state, criticized Kuster for seeming to place economic repercussions ahead of health issues.
Kuster responded: “I am not opposed to a shelter in place order. I am not the person to make that order. I was trying to explain the decision- making that goes into that, and the conversations I've had with the Governor . I was simply trying to explain what the dislocation could be and that lives could be lost from people losing their jobs, their housing, their sources of food, etc.”
A national order on shelter-in-place, rather than state-by-state, she said, would make it easier on everyone. “That's the president's decision” she said. “And again I would not object.”
Kuster meanwhile urged anyone who can work from home or study from home to do so. “You should be essentially isolating yourself and avoiding any risk.”
As for out-of-staters with second homes in New Hampshire, Kuster said they should quarantine themselves when they first arrive. “We have relatively fragile rural hospitals. They are very short of supplies, staff, so people need to understand that if they do leave the city and come to a condo or second home in New Hampshire, they have got to quarantine themselves and not jeopardize heath of local population.”
A third coronavirus-related bill, likely to become law.
Kuster says a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package that was recently passed by the U.S. Senate is headed to the House and expected to make its way to the President's desk. It's the largest such package in the country's history, designed to mitigate the negative economic impact of the crisis.
Small businesses,which account for 90% of the state's jobs, can expect major help, Kuster said. “We want to make sure we can help them get through the coming months, so that when we're back on track, they will have survived.”
The package includes grants and loans to help these businesses keep people on the payroll, despite depleted income, and focuses on the public health system, helping hospitals buy supplies needed to care for people suffering from COVID 19.
Meanwhile, a fourth package, Kuster says, is under discussion. Among those expected to receive help: postal workers.
As for the debt incurred by all of this federal aid, Kuster says economists from across the political spectrum have advised lawmakers that the spending is essential to help avoid economic free fall.