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As Congress weighs relief packages meant to blunt the negative impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. economy, lawmakers are also trying to manage the outbreak’s damage in their own states. Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of three medical doctors currently serving in the Senate, represents Louisiana, which has at least 257 confirmed cases of the virus and seven deaths. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.
As Congress weighs relief packages meant to blunt COVID-19's impact on the U.S. economy, lawmakers are also dealing with new problems the virus is creating in their home states.
Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, is one of them. His state has at least 250 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. And, so far, seven people have died. He is also one of three medical doctors currently serving in the Senate.
And he joins us now from Capitol Hill.
Senator Cassidy, thank you so much for being with us.
So, the legislation the Senate passed today providing free testing, paid sick leave, help for some of the poorest Americans, how much do you think this is going to alleviate the hit many Americans are going to be taking now?
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.:
I'm not sure.
The goal is to alleviate it as much as possible. But this is only the second of at least three packages. If there's something that we can do that has not been done in the first two packages, we shall do it.
I mean, the American people need to know that Congress is there with them. And, as much as we can, we're going to get our nation through this rough patch.
Well, we know there's a second package being worked on, $1.3 trillion. It would include direct cash payments, among other things.
How confident do you think Americans can be that these pieces of legislation are going to help people who are most in need?
Sen. Bill Cassidy:
They're going to pass.
And if you're speaking about a direct payment, when I speak to a family, they're concerned about their mortgage, their car note, how are they going to buy groceries, particularly an issue for the lower income, less likely to have savings. That's where the money will be targeted.
Mnuchin says we can have it out by the end of the first week in April. Well, oftentimes, mortgage payments are oftentimes due the first week in April. So, hopefully, we will get help there.
But we're also trying to do other things that help businesses that employ people through this rough patch.
And so, if you come back and you don't have a job, that's not good. So we're trying to help that small business, so that she can stay in business and that she can keep her employees as employees.
So, on all levels, we're trying to address this.
The American people are so used to looking at Washington, looking at dysfunction, frankly, looking at the two political parties fighting with each other, rather than working together.
What are we going to see right now? Is this going to be an example of the two parties actually working together for a change?
We are in this together.
And let me speak on another divide. Sometimes, there's a divide between what people who are not in Washington think and what people in Washington think.
I can tell you now, speaking as a doctor, if somebody at home decides to self-quarantine, maybe they have symptoms, maybe not, they don't expose six other people potentially to coronavirus, they have had more of an impact on stopping the spread of the disease than all the doctors and nurses in your community, because we don't have an effective treatment.
The best way to treat is not get infected. So I would say, not only will there be unity between Republicans and Democrats, but there will be unity between people in Washington and folks who are at home who sent us to Washington. We have to have common cause if we are going to defeat this disease.
Senator Cassidy, as a physician, you obviously know a lot about what's going on here.
How worried are you about what lies ahead? And do you think the American people now have the full picture of what's coming?
I think the American people are grasping it.
And it seems a little surreal, but it is coming home when you see that my state of Louisiana now has 257 confirmed cases and seven deaths. Nine days ago, we had one case. Now we have 257. It is spreading.
So I think that's coming home. I'm very worried. This has the potential to follow the track of what has happened in Italy, where there is a rapid increase in the number of cases, and the hospital system becomes overwhelmed.
I will say, I'm working closely with the White House, closely with my governor, all levels of government, to see what we can do to expand capacity.
But, ultimately, Judy, if somebody doesn't go out, does not infect another, that has tremendous impact upon whether that other person will live, flatten the curve, if you will.
Let me ask you about public health facilities, the ability of the health care facilities in your state of Louisiana to handle what's coming in terms of hospital beds, in terms of ventilators, whatever else is going to be needed.
Is there the capacity now to deal with what's coming in Louisiana?
If it happens as it happened in Italy, nobody is going to have the capacity, where you just had an exponential rise in the number of cases.
If we're able to flatten the curve, and people accept the disruption in their lives for the next few weeks or maybe a month or so, then we can flatten the curve, and we will have capability.
So, I think it really depends upon what we do as a nation. If we stay at home, care for other people, if we have symptoms or not, just stay at home, don't expose others, we will have capacity. If not, we will be overwhelmed.
We saw today, Senator, the president issuing an executive order having to do with prioritizing allocating health and medical resources.
How much of a difference is that going to make?
It's going to make a huge difference.
Right now, I'm continuing to hear folks that back home cannot get viral transport medium to take their swab that someone's taken for the virus to actually get tested. Masks are in short supply, personal protective equipment. I could go down the list.
But we need those things. We need them rapidly. Ventilators are being purchased, but I'm sure there's going to be a backorder for that sooner or later. Go down the list of what's needed, we need more of it.
And when it comes to prioritizing, how do you look at that as a question facing the health care profession?
We have to get more testing. We have to protect medical providers.
Medical providers are a limited capacity. We can't open up an old hospital and create more beds if you don't have the nurses and the doctors and the techs and everyone else it takes to run those.
So, we have to protect our medical professionals. It's so gratifying. My professional — my colleagues are front-line. They want to be front-line. But we have got to keep them healthy, because, if they're not healthy, they can't take care of patients. We need them taking care of patients.
And, finally, Senator, President Trump has called this the Chinese virus. You're not using that term. Why not?
This is something which happens regularly, where a virus moves from one animal into human beings.
The Chinese physicians have been outstanding in sharing medical information with the rest of the world. And I was, just before you got on, reading several "New England Journal of Medicine" articles published by Chinese about whether this medical therapy works, what's the impact of children.
I could go on. Speaking now as a physician, the international collegiality among health care workers has been fantastic. And just as we need Washington to work well with the parties and with people who are not in Washington, our medical community has to work well internationally, because this is an international issue. We are truly in it together.
Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, we thank you very much.
Thank you, Judy.
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