PITTSBURG — As concerns about COVID-19 have spread along with the virus itself in recent days and weeks throughout the country and in Kansas, the state’s elected officials in Congress have weighed in on the government’s response and what people should be doing to combat the coronavirus.
Both senators and all four of the state’s representatives — on both sides of the aisle — voted in favor of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law Wednesday.
“As a society, we are faced with a crisis that we have never seen before,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said in a press release the same day the bill passed. “The novel coronavirus is impacting not just Kansas or the United States, but the entire world. I am proud to have voted in favor of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide much needed relief in light of the coronavirus. If ever there was a time when we needed bipartisanship in the Congress, it is now, and I’m pleased we have been able to work across the aisle for the greater good.”
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) also discussed his reasons for supporting the relief bill.
“We need to make certain that our health care providers have the necessary tools to meet the health care needs of American citizens,” he said. “And front and center in that regard is testing, and we are woefully inadequate and undersupplied in what we need to test the necessary number of Kansans and Americans to know what they face and to know what their circumstances are and to respond in the medically required way. We are working to make sure there are more tests across the country and working to make certain that those tests are distributed in a way that Kansans and their health care providers can access them.”
Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS 2nd District), who represents southeast Kansas and most of eastern Kansas outside of the Kansas City area, on Friday in response to questions from the Morning Sun said the federal government “has taken decisive and unprecedented action,” to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are working with state and local governments, as well as forging new public-private partnerships to mitigate against the medical and financial fallout of COVID-19,” Watkins said. “Now is a time for American unity, not partisan bickering. Congress has followed President Trump and Vice President Pence’s lead in a bicameral and bipartisan fashion to combat and contain COVID-19 by passing a legislative package that aids the effort for testing, treatment, and financial assistance for businesses and workers. We are all in this together and everyone has a part to play. Individually, follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines on social distancing, travel, and hygiene.”
Rep. Ron Estes (R-KS 4th District), who represents Wichita and south central Kansas, similarly discussed his reasons for supporting the coronavirus relief bill passed this week.
"This legislation provides workers and families stability, assists small businesses, and increases access to free COVID-19 testing – but we know there is still more to be done,” Estes said in a statement Thursday. “Our community, like many others across the world, are dealing with unprecedented circumstances at no fault of their own. Nevertheless, we are working to fight against this deadly virus while pulling together as Americans, just like we have for more than two centuries. I commend the president, his task force, my colleagues, our dedicated medical professionals, and the American people for their continued resolve."
Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS 1st District), a medical doctor who in addition to representing western and most of northern Kansas is also currently running for US Senate, said in an interview Thursday that President Trump “has done everything that’s humanly possible” to slow down and contain the spread of COVID-19. “But this is the most critical time, these next 3 to 4 days are so critical, and this virus is accelerating across Kansas now, so we have to blunt that,” he said.
“So looking out, you know, across the state right now — and I’ve talked to lots of doctors and hospitals and laboratories — it looks to me like our seniors are hunkered down, our children, you know, the high school age and younger are hunkered down, but we have a lot of young adults that are spreading this virus, and even though they may not die from it, young adults are now ending up in the hospitals, they’re ending up in the ICUs, they’re going to get sick too,” Marshall said. “But the real worry is they’re going to give this virus to their parents and grandparents, who could die.”
To some extent, Marshall said, excessive media coverage of the coronavirus has caused people to panic more than they need to.
“I do think it was overhyped, and especially the left media overhyped it, they blew it out of proportion, and that’s what’s killing our economy is this overhype,” Marshall said.
Nonetheless, from the federal government down to the local level, Kansans should be doing everything possible to minimize the spread of the virus, which includes developing vaccines and antiviral drugs, along with more testing for COVID-19.
“I think we’re doing all of those things,” Marshall said, “and we’re going to have an overabundance of caution, just like the president said. We’re all practicing an overabundance of caution, regardless of the hype, right now this is a critical time for Kansas to put a lid on this virus and try to prevent its spread.”
The panic over the virus, Marshall said, is leading to unnecessary hoarding of items such as toilet paper and canned goods.
“I think each community and each individual needs to practice some responsibility and have some common sense,” he said. “I don’t have any idea what the interest is in hoarding toilet paper and other supplies.”
Since January, Marshall said, he has been encouraging people to buy enough supplies to last them through about two weeks of staying home if necessary.
“So I think that I’m hopeful now everybody has enough toilet paper for two weeks and enough canned food to get by for two weeks, but we’ve got to stop hoarding. I think that there’s already some people that are overreacting here,” Marshall said.
To ensure supply chains continue to operate and stores can be restocked, he said, the federal government should do what it can to make sure enough rest stops stay open, and businesses such as drive-through restaurants should try to stay open so that truckers can continue doing their jobs. But shortages of toilet paper, cleaning supplies and some kinds of food are largely a result of people overreacting to the threat posed by COVID-19, Marshall said.
Watkins similarly offered advice for Kansans who are worried about shortages of essential items, without recommending specific action the government should take to deal with items people are looking for being temporarily out of stock.
“Americans are resilient and our economy is strong – thanks to good, conservative fiscal policy and the unsung heroes all over the country delivering our shipments and stocking our shelves,” he said. “Kansans know how to come together, endure, and succeed. This is no different. I’d ask that everyone who can to please check in on parents, neighbors, and the elderly. Be generous. Be cautious. We will get through this together.”
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has recently issued several executive orders in response to the virus, including orders to close K-12 schools and temporarily ban evictions, foreclosures, and disconnection of utilities. Republicans in the Kansas Senate, in response, have pushed back, limiting Kelly’s emergency powers.
“Kansans are unified, but naturally there are some policy differences,” Watkins said. “I trust state and local leaders to overcome the challenges they face during this difficult time to do their job in representing their constituencies.”
Marshall said he was going to be meeting with Kelly “and we’re going to keep our six foot social distance as, you know, we’re supposed to be doing, but I want to kind of hear where she’s at on it, and certainly I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus right now,” he said. “This is not a time for partisan politics. It sounds like she’s practicing an abundance of over-caution, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing right now.”
Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS 3rd District), the only Democratic member of Kansas’ congressional delegation, has also recently issued statements on the spread of coronavirus.
"The science is clear: the best way to prevent the spread of this virus is to make sure those who have it are aware and can act to protect themselves and others around them,” Davids said in a statement Wednesday in response to new Kansas Department of Health and Environment testing guidelines that reduce COVID-19 testing in Johnson County, which has had the most confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state.
“The Trump Administration’s failure to lead on this is now forcing Kansas to take away tests from the areas that need it most. With the greatest number of coronavirus cases in Kansas being in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties, our community needs more tests, not less, and we need them now,” David said.
On Thursday, Davids announced she was self-quarantining after having contact with another member of Congress who had tested positive for the virus.
“In following the guidance I received from the Attending Physician of Congress, and out of an abundance of caution, I will stay home and self-quarantine until March 26,” she said in a press release, adding that she had not experienced symptoms and had been told by a physician that she was at low risk of having contracted the virus.
“But as I’ve said before, we all have a role to play in reducing the spread of this virus, and that means self-quarantining when appropriate,” Davids said, adding that she would continue to work from home.
With the first cases of coronavirus confirmed in the southeast corner of the state this week, Marshall said Kansans should now be assuming the coronavirus has reached their local community, even if it hasn’t been officially confirmed yet.
“I think we have to all assume it’s in our community now,” he said. “I think we have to assume that, and just to put it in perspective, we’ve all been through tougher times in our lives. There’s been other viruses more deadly than this one.”
America made it through World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, Marshall said.
“There’s a war right now on this virus,” he said. “If we’ll do what the president has asked us to do, we’re going to get through this. … We’ve had tougher days, and the communities need to rally around each other and solve this problem. This problem is going to be solved in the local communities. The federal government has done everything we can. It’s now in our communities, and we need to minimize the spread of it, we need to basically protect our seniors and those people with medical problems.”