Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Mark Takano

The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.)

Read excerpts from the interview below.

 

Clemons: California's mask requirements are setting a standard for the nation that a lot of the other nations are now following. What are your thoughts on how that's going over in your district?

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Takano: Well actually the norms, the social norms in my district and my area, I think, are pretty compliant with mask wearing. Riverside County's health officer actually put in place an order which was later rescinded by the Board of Supervisors, and the elected county sheriff did say several weeks ago to the Board of Supervisors, “If you extend those health orders, including mask wearing, I won't enforce it. I, the county sheriff, know the Constitution and I have a right as county sheriff to decide which ordinances that I will enforce.” Orange County's sheriff did something similar. So we've seen mixed signals go out of the public. But the public itself in our area and to the east of me, in Dr. [Raul] Ruiz's district, made up of a lot of retired folk, the actual social norms are that people are wearing masks. You go to the coasts. Not so much. I'm hearing from people who go to Huntington Beach or the beach communities, mask wearing and social distancing, especially among the young, is simply not a norm. And I think the governor is trying to rein back what he opened up. I think he's realizing the infection rates are going up or they're staying constant. As we test more people that infection rate is staying constant. It's not clear that the rate is increasing. But certainly I think he's very concerned, I don't think he really wanted to open up as fast as he did. But we do have elements within the society that really wanted to open up more aggressively. … It's unfortunate that mask wearing has become so polarized. It shouldn't be, and it's, I think, essential to have mask wearing as a norm if we are going to allow for some more commercial opening up, more commerce opening up. I think it's clear that the virus is not as lethal and deadly as the great influenza of 1918. But it's certainly way more deadly than the ordinary flu and the mixed messaging of political leaders has led to this bizarre moment where scientifically valid and very effective means of controlling infections through mask wearing has become a polarized subject.

 

Clemons: Do you have any optimism at all that leadership in both parties can resolve this rift around the issue of masks?

Takano: Yeah. There is some optimism. I think unfortunately, it may take more people dying, ICU units overloaded again. As with the AIDS epidemic, which initially was mostly confined to the LGBT community, specifically gay men and intravenous drug users, as people began to know people personally who died, I think that's when the idea that it wasn't going to affect you personally changed. ... Hawaii is the one state in our nation where they have very few infections. And where I just spoke to a friend who has a condo in Hawaii, in Maui, and he was going to go to Hawaii and maybe endure the 14-day quarantine, which is required of everybody who lands in Hawaii. You have to go to quarantine, self-quarantine in your residence. You can't even take out the garbage potentially. You're facing a $5,000 fine. You fill out a questionnaire every day, you have to report to the health officials. You fly from Maui to Honolulu, you've got to quarantine in Honolulu, and then vice versa on the return. I mean, they're taking it very seriously in Hawaii. And we have one American state where I believe the measures are being taken very seriously. It's unfortunate that the rest of the nation, if we try to impose that level of rigorousness, we would meet with a significant amount of rebellion. Talking to John Barry, who wrote "The Great Influenza," the book about the 1918 pandemic, it wasn't that much easier than those restrictions on people. There were actually public officials who were threatened at gunpoint. We certainly don't have the civic education or understanding to understand that very rigorous measures taken during a pandemic are certainly constitutional. But people have got in their heads that their constitutional rights are being violated, many people think this is a democratic conspiracy or plot to oust the president. I do lay a lot of responsibility on President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE’s shoulders, for pointing fingers elsewhere. If I could, I want to shift toward other hopeful signs. A competent addressing of threats to veterans at the VA. We have something in the VA called CLCs, or community living centers. Otherwise, ordinary folks would know them as long-term care facilities.

 

Takano: So here's the news. The VA operates its own CLCs, they do not operate the state veterans homes. They fund the veterans at those homes, but they do not actually run those homes. The states do that in various ways. The actual homes that the VA runs have had very low infections and very low death rates. And the patients there, the veterans who are there have far more complicated medical conditions, far more vulnerable than the seniors who are residents at private homes.

 

Clemons: So what is the secret of success there?

Takano: They tested every resident. They tested every employee. They locked down those facilities early. In fact, they got a boatload of complaints from family members who couldn't visit their veteran relatives. And they have continued that vigilance. ... Part of my frustration with this administration is the lack of a national testing strategy, saying that the states are responsible for getting PPE out and, you know, just the abnegation of any kind of leadership and responsibility.

 

Clemons: How did it hit you when the president said at his rally that he wanted to slow testing down?

Takano: Well, that's ridiculous, because it contravenes the care and concern that he had, well, it's not care, but the concern he had over liability that people could get coronavirus at his rallies. They had to sign a release of liability statement. I don't want to lose the lesson that the VA has to teach. At least one-third of all the deaths in this country of coronavirus have occurred in places like nursing homes. I want to take the lessons we learned at the VA and apply it to the rest of the nation. The president should say, “Let's prioritize testing. And let's make sure that every nursing home in America has enough testing so that every employee and every resident gets tested.” But that leadership is missing. I mean, that's a very low hanging fruit that we can go beyond the controversy over the face masks. Who could argue with “Let's test everyone who is a resident in a nursing home, every veteran that is in a state veteran's home.” And then I think we need to think about that same standard to other congregate living situations such as our prisons and jails. The jails and prisons in rural America are real danger zones and the prison guards, the people, our federal prisons, that should be an emphasis. We know a lot more about what's happening with infections, and we can do more to control infections. But then we have to build, I think, a societal consensus about face masks, when we have to disabuse people who think that it doesn't matter and that this virus is not a threat. And finally, we have to pass further relief through the HEROES Act. You know, the HEROES Act is stymied. Unemployment benefits are gonna run out in July. We have to extend those unemployment benefits. This opening up has not resulted in a miraculous recovery of the economy, the social dislocations, the unjust ways in which our nation was already organized going into this pandemic has been revealed. And it's gonna be made worse if we allow people to continue to suffer. We have to take care of our front-line essential workers who must work, who do not have the option of working at home. We need to pay them bonus pay. We need to get the extension of another round of benefits out to people. It's complete madness, the dithering, the delay and the idea that we're gonna incentivize all these people to go back to work by taking away their unemployment benefits. This is a cruel and inhumane vision.