Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones likens the spread of coronavirus to a forest fire.
“Only you can prevent this forest fire,” Jones says. “That’s how we need to approach this.”
Jones says that means individuals should follow the advice of public health officials and practice social distancing to slow the spread of the disease. Health officials caution people not to go out unless necessary and wash hands frequently.
Jones spoke with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager about coronavirus testing, the federal response, and its effect on Alabama’s upcoming runoff election.
Long lines of cars headed to a drive-through testing site off U.S. 280 Tuesday, ultimately shutting down Assurance Scientific Laboratories early for the day. Jones says people are rightly concerned about coronavirus, but at this point they should seek testing only if they have symptoms. That way, while supplies are at a premium, the tests can be used for the most critical cases.
“We don’t want to overrun this system which is already under stress,” Jones says.
Jones says he was confused by President Donald Trump’s comments Monday that states should buy their own medical supplies rather than depend on the federal government.
“People just can’t go down to the Walmart and buy a ventilator and respirators,” Jones says.
Supplies from a national stockpile are being distributed, according to Jones, but it’s not enough to meet current demand.
The U.S. Senate is considering a bill this week that would address paid sick leave, emergency food assistance and testing, among other items. Jones says daycare for health care workers is an important issue now that many schools are closed. He adds there are many unknowns with the situation.
“[The bill] is a work in progress. It is not something that Congress is going to fix today,” Jones says. “We’re going to have to continue to assess where we are and move forward.”
Another package of economic measures is under discussion. Proposals include direct payments to families, tax deferments and aid for airlines and the hospitality industry. Jones says the focus right now should be on individuals.
“I want to take care of people that are in a supermarket, not in the stock market,” Jones says.
He says people need assurances they can still pay bills or won’t lose their jobs while fighting the coronavirus. Helping companies can wait until the full impact of the pandemic is known, Jones says.
Alabama is still scheduled to hold a runoff election March 31st. The most high-profile race is that of the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill says he can’t legally move the election, but has asked the state attorney general for a legal opinion on whether the governor can move it. In the meantime, Merrill says voters can use COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee. Jones says that’s not enough.
“I support the efforts to try to delay the runoff,” Jones says. “In a health crisis like this, we need to try and figure out a way.”
Jones says Alabama could be affected by a national crisis in the future, so changes should be made to accommodate that.