By Kate Dolan
State Senator Art Haywood, who serves the 4th district, which includes Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy, conducted a live telephone town hall meeting to address community members’ concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans and Doctor Scott Goldstein, an emergency medicine physician at Einstein Healthcare Network and Director of EMS and disaster medicine, joined the senator for the nighttime meeting on March 26 to answer questions submitted online or called in by listeners.
“Right now, we’re in a lull before the storm, and hopefully we can keep everyone’s anxiety at a very low level,” Goldstein said.
The discussion raised many questions about the impact of the coronavirus, including hospital resources and equipment, testing and symptoms, the pandemic’s timeline and the federal aid package for $2 trillion that was passed Friday by congress.
“Do we have the resources we need to fight COVID-19 in Pennsylvania?” read one submitted question. “What do we need more of?”
“I can address that in part, only from the state senate perspective,” Haywood said. “Yesterday, we approved $50 million to support hospitals to purchase equipment and supplies,” Haywood said. “We know that’s not enough, but it is a start. So that’s one piece of what the state has done.”
There was a question about Pennsylvania’s ventilator inventory, and the caller pointed to New York City, which had more than 25,000 confirmed cases and faces a shortage of ventilators.
“Where we are now, we have enough ventilators,” Haywood said. “Where we will be in week three or week four is challenging to predict.”
“We have time to acquire more,” Haywood said. “Governor Wolf has opened up demand to buy ventilators. The state wants to buy ventilators. The state wants to buy masks. The state wants to buy gowns, and today the governor announced it to the world: ‘We want to buy this equipment.’ When we get to a stage where we got a big surge in PA, there is a possibility that we would have been able to acquire and purchase what we need this week, next week, and the weeks prior to the surge.”
Dr. Goldstein fielded several questions about the nature of the virus and the effectiveness of precautionary measures, such as wearing masks.
“You don’t need to wear a mask unless you are the one sick,” said Goldstein, adding that it is recommended that masks be saved for healthcare professionals. The virus is heavier than air, drops to the ground and is not considered airborne. Masks will prevent droplets, Dr. Goldstein explained, but added that if social distancing of six feet is maintained, wearing a mask is a “non-issue.”
Grocery shopping for seniors is safe according to Goldstein if all the correct precautions are taken, but he suggested seniors use delivery services or have someone younger go out to the store.
A caller from Elkins Park, asked if it was too soon to join kids and grandkids in North Jersey, after both she and her husband and their family in New Jersey completed a two-week quarantine.
“I would honestly just err on the side of caution,” Goldstein said. “It is very hard to stay away from family. I would stay away for a good three to four weeks just to make sure nothing gets transmitted.”
Another caller inquired about potential coronavirus healing medicines circulating in the news.
“There is no proof that any medication actually works against this virus,” Goldstein said.
Several callers inquired about testing, when and where to receive it and for whom it was being prioritized.
“There are several testing sites not too far away,” Haywood said. “Right now, the testing is being concentrated on healthcare workers, those who are on the frontline as well as first responders. A lot of testing has been done in a big level in the last few days.”
He informed callers of two testing sites in Philadelphia. The Rite Aid at the corner of Ogontz Avenue and Washington Lane is offering tests every weekday, and in South Philadelphia, a drive-through testing site is set up next to Citizens Bank Park.
“The lines are long,” Haywood said. “A friend of mine who is a dentist said he was in the line for eight hours. When he got to the front of the line, time was up, and he had to come back the next day.”
Goldstein urged people to be discerning when considering being tested.
“If you have no symptoms, or mild symptoms, and no chest pain, no trouble breathing or diarrhea, [then] you self isolate,” he said. “Testing will not alter the outcome of your process, so there doesn’t necessarily need to be a test if you’re having minimal to no symptoms.”
Economic fallout, government aid and taxes were the subject of many questions.
Congressmen Evans highlighted some of the features of the federal stimulus package which passed Friday, including unemployment insurance extension, funds for small business investment and payments given directly to people based on 2018 tax filings.
“The 2018 will be a determining factor if you receive the grant. That grant is for $1,200,” he said. “And it will come directly to you.”
Senator Haywood confirmed that PA’s tax deadline extension from April 15 to July 15 was for both filing and payment. Haywood also addressed the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums and responded to a caller’s question about rental and mortgage payment moratoriums.
“The supreme court has temporarily stopped evictions and foreclosures,” Senator Haywood said. “Now, evictions, that’s way down the line, and foreclosure, also very far down the line. There is no moratorium in terms of paying rent, no moratorium in terms of paying mortgage. But if you don’t pay, you are not going to be evicted. Now that’s for the period that we are under.
“Eventually the moratorium is going to end. When that ends, if people haven’t paid, then evictions can go forward, and foreclosures can go forward. I want to be clear. There is no moratorium on paying rent. There is no moratorium on mortgage.”
There were questions that couldn’t be answered. Haywood and Evans took contact information from callers and promised to respond when answers were clear.
Dr. Goldstein offered the best answer he could for a question on how long the city and country would be in crisis mode after the caller cited China’s timeline.
“It feels like a lot longer because we’ve been aware of it for so long in these other countries,” he said. “Only in the last few weeks, we started to notice it in our country. It might run a course of three, four, five months. There is no way to know, but based on what we are monitoring, it does mimic the other countries.”
The complete audio from the town meeting is available at Senator Haywood’s website: senatorhaywood.com.