Saturday, March 14, 2020

Our government is laser-focused on ensuring the health of all Americans.

Phil Roe
by Congressman Phil Roe, M. D. - Much of the world is gripped with news about the global spread of a new virus known as coronavirus, or COVID-19. I know how unsettling the spread of an unknown virus is, but I can tell you with confidence, based on information I’ve received from first-hand conversations and briefings, our government is laser-focused on ensuring the health of all Americans. In fact, on March 4, I was proud to vote for an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that provides $7.8 billion in critical funding to combat the disease. This funding will be used to greatly expand the availability of testing kits, to invest in research for vaccines and treatments, and to help our public health professionals to effectively monitor and prevent further spread of the illness. I am pleased President Trump and Congress could quickly agree on a package to get these critical resources to our communities.

Despite new cases surfacing, Americans should be optimistic about our ability to prevent the illness’ spread and effectively combat it. Here are some facts. Americans’ current risk of contracting COVID-19 domestically is very low. While community transmission is possible, the vast majority of cases continue to be related to individuals who have travelled to a region where there is an outbreak – such as China, South Korea, Italy or Iran. The funding passed this week will only further assist our efforts to contain the virus.

Still, it’s better to be prepared and individuals should be aware of the symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath. For the vast majority of individuals who become sick, the symptoms will be similar to a bad cold or the flu. If you notice any of these symptoms, do not panic. Ask yourself if you have recently traveled to or if you’ve been in contact with someone who traveled to any of the areas where the virus spread - then call your doctor and tell them about your symptoms. Calling ahead will allow medical professionals to take reasonable precautions to prevent further transmission.

Like any virus, there are ways to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put together a list of commonsense tips to stay healthy. These steps include frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth if you have not washed your hands; staying home when you are sick; covering your cough or sneeze with an elbow or a tissue; and avoiding handshakes and instead using a fist bump. These are easy ways we can help keep ourselves healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak and flu season.

The president made the right call to establish a COVID-19 Task Force led by Vice President Mike Pence to help guide our administration’s response to COVID-19. Since the Vice President took charge, the task force announced that 2,500 testing kits will be in our communities by week’s end – allowing for as many as 1.25 million coronavirus tests to be administered. We will need more tests to go out quickly, but this is a good start. Vice President Pence assured us these test kits are considered an essential health benefit, and will be covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance, ensuring wide access and peace of mind. The CDC continues to quarantine Americans who may have been exposed to the illness to limit the virus’ spread. Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are also working in tandem to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Additionally, the task force expanded travel restrictions to travelers returning from Iran, which has experienced a significant outbreak.

Right now, it’s imperative Americans remain calm and vigilant, but also confident in our public health response to this global situation. State and local governments and employers should work on developing contingency plans to prevent widespread outbreaks in the present and in the future. Individuals should work on adjusting their behaviors to incorporate good hygiene. Even though there are cases of COVID-19 spreading, America is more prepared than any other nation to combat the virus, and I believe we are taking the steps necessary to effectively prepare our public.

Phil Roe represents the First Congressional District of Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is physician and co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus and a member of the Health Caucus. Prior to serving in Congress, he served as the Mayor of Johnson City, Tennessee.  

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