Merkley on the coronavirus economic ‘implosion’ and response

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said the U.S. is way behind where it should be with the testing and emergency preparedness for the new coronavirus, but he said some help could be on the way with the three bills pending in Congress.

“We’re dealing with two crises: an infectious disease crisis and the accompanying economic crisis,” Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, said from Washington D.C. on a call with state media. “The speed at which the coronavirus is hammering the U.S. is stunning.”

A week ago, there were 1,200 confirmed cases in the U.S. and today there are 7,000, roughly a six-fold increase, along with a three-fold increase in fatalities to 100, three of which are in Oregon. Coronavirus testing in the U.S. has lagged other countries by a huge amount, he noted, so we don’t have the full picture.

“This is clearly the beginning of a huge surge of medical peril and our whole goal is to slow down the infection from one person to another,” Merkley said.

He discussed three pieces of federal legislation designed to bring relief. One that passed already allocates $8.3 billion to strengthen the U.S. health care system. Oregon is slated to received more than $7 million so far.

The Senate passed a relief package on Wednesday that would directly help families sick leave, unemployment insurance, free testing and strengthening the food distribution system. And finally, there will be a stimulus package that could potentially hit $1 trillion, he said.

“What we’re looking at is complete implosion of the economy,” Merkley said. “When you have so many people staying in place and not going out to restaurants and gatherings at athletic events, that has a tremendous impact on the economy and ripples through small businesses in huge numbers of ways. I’ve been receiving letters from small businesses, fly fishing, restaurants, event planning companies, saying their orders have collapsed. This is a large bill that’s trying to help out.”

The senator said he is also pushing for forbearance on federally guaranteed mortgages.’