House lawmakers look to tamp down panic, amp up response efforts in their districts

House lawmakers look to tamp down panic, amp up response efforts in their districts
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As concerns over the spread of the coronavirus continue to grow, a number of House lawmakers are working to tamp down panic and put response plans into action back in their home districts.

Lawmakers recently passed two emergency coronavirus relief packages and are working on a third, but outside of the steps being taken in the Capitol, members said they’ve been working with local officials to ensure individuals have access to the proper information and resources needed to combat the virus as efficiently as possible. 

Rep. Denver RigglemanDenver RigglemanHouse lawmakers look to tamp down panic, amp up response efforts in their districts Overnight Defense: Bolton, GOP senators see close ties challenged | Republicans fume over Dem maneuver on Iran bills |Trump criticizes Democrats over war powers vote House GOP introduces bill to secure voter registration systems against foreign hacking MORE (R-Va.) said he’s been working for weeks to get out ahead of response efforts, having set up emergency response teams throughout his district and making sure the latest updates on where to get tested are readily available on his website. The Virginia Republican said he’s also making efforts to be available to his constituents to address their concerns, having held a virtual town hall last Thursday that had more than 800 participants. 

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"You know, I was military, so we set up an emergency response team throughout the 5th District and we're coordinating with hospitals and local health departments so that people call our office or can call those health departments, and we are actually trying to convince them to set up emergency hotlines for coronavirus testing because you know you can't go get tested in hospitals, right?” he told The Hill in an interview. 

“You have to be symptomatic and get a test kit and send [it]," he continued, "so we are trying to create sort of a response team across the district at the district offices where people can get emergency information.” 

Riggleman said his response team has already received input from one of the fire departments in his district as he works on crafting a plan to backfill positions in the event that emergency workers, including law enforcement and firefighters, need to be quarantined — an issue he hopes will be addressed in upcoming legislation. 

“Now I'm not saying to panic, but let's go ahead and have the plan in place, in case something like that were to happen,” he said, adding that his office is committed to remaining reachable during the pandemic.

“I don't want people to panic because perception can become reality," he added. "And if people have the facts, I think that can tamp down any uncertainty, which I believe is the most important thing for us to do right now is not only to provide solutions, but to tamp down uncertainty, and to let people know that we are working the issue.” 

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Meanwhile, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellHoldout governors face pressure to issue stay-at-home orders Florida confirms over 500 new cases of coronavirus in the state Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (D-Fla.) also expressed concerns over backfilling emergency workers, and is working on a plan to handle a potential shortage of medical professionals, noting that the shortage of doctors and nurses in her state could be amplified in the event that proper precautions aren't taken to protect those in the industry. 

“We're trying to figure out how to do this, but there are a lot of foreign physicians that come to the United States [who are] citizens now, but they have medical degrees in their countries, but it's very difficult for them to get their license here, so they end up doing other jobs," she explained. "So how do we bring them on board for situations like the one that we're facing now so that we can activate those workers?” 

“So I mean there are things that we can do, and it's a matter of thinking a little bit outside the box and mobilizing a little faster than usually government does.” 

Mucarsel-Powell said she has been holding conference calls with public health officials, chiefs of police in Monroe County, Florida, the Coast Guard, top infectious disease doctors, and the Small Business Administration to prepare and remain informed, she told The Hill in an interview on Saturday. She has also provided a resource guide for her constituents on her website and held a virtual town hall on Saturday. 

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonAsian American lawmaker warns of fear of racism over coronavirus stigma Pressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mass.) has also stressed the importance of having a functioning office operation throughout the course of the health crisis, having crafted a system that identifies the severity and the appropriate reactions for office operations in an effort to keep both staffers and constituents safe. 

"The three-tier system — which has been adopted by dozens of other House offices — recommends employees work from home, places a 50-person capacity on events but allows staffers to move forward with pre-approved travel at level one," Moulton told The Hill in an interview. "At level two, employees have to work from home unless they are assigned to an office rotation with all work travel suspended and event attendees having to be pre-approved."

Level three requires all staff to work from home with no events and in-person meetings taking place.

“We already have complete 100% work from home capacity, everybody has a laptop," Moulton said. "Everybody is mobile capable, mobile phones are already forwarded — all this stuff that people are struggling through right now, that's old news for us. So we have the freedom to worry about things like whether or not we're getting our magazine subscriptions at this point."

"So we're ready to rock here," he continued. "And I think that's important because we need to keep serving our constituents — we can't get into a position where we're not able to do our jobs because we're in public service.”

Moulton, who previously served in the Marine Corps, said he has also taken strides to combat misinformation about the virus to make sure his constituents are receiving the latest and most accurate information available, putting out nonpolitical coronavirus email updates in addition to creating a public information center on his website. 

“The biggest concern is uncertainty — people don't know what to do and the lack of clear decisive leadership," he said. "Look, if you provide clear decisive leadership, you can build trust and confidence."

"This is a time when my constituents need to know that they're going to get the straight scoop from me, they're going to get the bad news, along with the good I'm not just going to be a cheerleader," Moulton continued. "I'm going to tell them how to prepare and to tell them everything we know and what they can do. So rather than sitting at home and panic, they can actually use their time and energy effectively by getting prepared."