Roe: Federal government needs 'wartime' mentality to deal with coronavirus

Hank Hayes • Mar 31, 2020 at 9:00 AM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said on Monday the federal government has to have an "all hands on deck" and "wartime” mentality to stem the coronvirus outbreak.

Roe, R-Tennessee, hailed the Trump administration's daily briefings to the American people on the pandemic.

"I think it's very helpful and tamps down the fear and anxiety that people have," Roe said of the briefings. "When and if this happens again, we'll be better at it."

In a conference call with reporters, Roe detailed the Congressional response to the pandemic: a $2.2 trillion package that funded increases in testing and vaccine development; support for large and small businesses; and direct payments to taxpayers ($1,200 per individual, $2,400 for families and $500 for children).

"Travel is going to be very difficult. (Airlines) are bleeding cash. I flew four days after 9/11 and (the Atlanta airport) looked similar to that," Roe noted.

In a $150 billion relief fund for states, Roe said Tennessee will receive about $3 billion to fill holes in the state budget.

Roe also addressed these questions:

Gov. (Bill) Lee has been receiving some backlash. What say you about his reaction to this virus? Is he doing enough to stop the spread?

"I think we've had about 1,800 (positive) cases. I think we've had 10 deaths. We will have more cases and more deaths. Ten days ago, we were on the phone with him and he was concerned about the number of people in Sevier County. Last year, there were 12 and a half million vistors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and this March topped that from last year. They closed it down. Dollywood is closed down and I think what the governor is trying to do is exactly what the president has talked about and that is how do you thread the needle for safety without absolutely kneecapping your economy. I hope this does not come to fruition, but we could have 47 million people lose their jobs, a 32 percent unemployment rate. During the Great Depression, it got to 24 percent. I think the governor is doing a good job, and the numbers and data on the ground will dictate what we have to do."

Are you satisfied with the testing kits that are rolling out and the numbers that are ramping up?

"That's one of the keys to this whole thing and I knew it from day one. I said (to the CDC) 'look this is what's going to happen. We've got spring break coming up. A family will go to Disney World, and they're going to get back and find out Disney World had coronavirus.' Now you're going to be able (to have testing) and that is huge. It gives the family information. It gives the state information to know the prevalence of the disease where you are. You'll be able to phase an opening of the country. New York is going to be totally different than Johnson City or Greeneville or Kingsport, Elizabethton, Mountain City. The thing we want to do is mitigate this right now. It may peak at different times and different places and then it will go down."

You mentioned the financial aspect of hospitals and medical groups. The lack of ability for hospitals to do elective surgeries is a huge financial hit. Is there anything in the package that would help?

“There are $100-plus billion for hospitals. I pushed really hard to make sure 20 percent of this money got to rural hospitals. We’ve got a lot of our rural hospitals hanging on by a thread.

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