The House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis convened a briefing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical staff, first responders, grocery store workers, drivers, custodians, and other frontline workers.
In his opening statement, Chairman James Clyburn (D-SC) commended the frontline workers who continue to work despite the risk of contracting of COVID-19 or spreading it to their families. He noted that many lack basic protections to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy and hospitals are still in need of masks and gowns months after the pandemic began. He urged that frontline protections be included in State’s reopening plans to ensure the safety of all workers.
Ranking Member Steve Scalise (R-LA) used his opening statement to call for a hearing on holding China accountable for the international spread of COVID-19. He stated that China allowed the virus spread by permitting international flights to leave the nation and prohibited American medical experts from investigating the situation. Ranking Member Scalise also spoke about China’s role in hoarding critical personal protective equipment (PPE) and medications, and the need to bring manufacturing back to the United States.
Dr. Megan Ranney, an Emergency Physician and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Alpert Medical School at Brown University, spoke about her experience in combatting COVID-19 on the frontline. Dr. Ranney spoke about the dire need for PPE, the inadequacy of the Strategic National Stockpile, and the failure to ramp up domestic production of these products. She detailed that without these protections, many frontline workers have become hospitalized and some have died. She concluded that a stable and predictable solution is needed, and the HEROES Act is just the first step in bringing PPE production back to America.
Ms. Talisa Hardin, a Registered Nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center, spoke about the lack of protections provided to nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, in her testimony. Ms. Hardin explained that when the pandemic began, nurses’ access to N95 facemasks was taken away by management, and many were forced to regularly reuse facemasks. She continued that due to relaxed facemask guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), management failed to adequately protect nurses from COVID-19 infections. Ms. Hardin emphasized the need to establish a system to protect frontline workers and the need for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emergency standard.
Dr. Shanti Anker, a Pulmonary Critical Care Physician at Phoebe Putney Health System, testified about the experience of working for a rural hospital during the public health emergency. Dr. Shanti Anker detailed that her hospital was quickly overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases and their stockpile of PPE was depleted within a week. She continued that while the hospital was able to benefit from donations from the community, a more organized effort is needed at the State and Federal level to provide necessary supplies.
Additional witnesses included:
- Eric Colts, Bus Driver for the Detroit Department of Transportation;
- Diana Wilson, Emergency Medical Technician for the New York City Fire Department;
- Marcus Aranda, Custodian in San Francisco, California;
- Steve Pettus; Managing Partner at Dickie Brennan & Co; and
- Zenobia Shepherd, Mother of Leilani Jordan, who worker at a supermarket and passed away due to COVID-19.
- Testing Capacity – Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked if increasing diagnostic testing capacity would help protect frontline workers. Ms. Hardin and Dr. Ranney agreed that increased, accurate testing would allow providers separate infected patients from non-infected patients and provide proper protections to those providers working with infected patients. Dr. Ranney added that if everyone had access to testing, infected individuals could isolate themselves from the community and prevent a new surge in cases.
- Reopening the Economy – Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) asked what are the risks of reopening too soon. Dr. Ranney replied that there are two risks: the risk that consumers will not return to the economy because of the perceived danger of becoming infected; and the risk of a new surge in COVID-19 cases. Dr. Ranney asserted that testing is necessary prior to fully reopening businesses.
- Personal Protective Equipment – Jackie Walorski (R-IN) and Mark Green (R-TN) spoke about how China hoarded PPE in the beginning of the pandemic and then restricted exports of these products to the United States, causing an international shortage. Rep. Walorski emphasized the need to bring the medical supplies supply chain back United States and supported legislation that incentivized domestic production. Rep. Green also detailed the efforts to increase PPE production during the public health emergency, including the invoking Defense Production Act and public-private partnerships.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) disputed these claims by highlighting the lack of coordination to procure the necessary PPE and the competition this created between states. Rep. Raskin asked Dr. Ranney how hospitals procure PPE during the pandemic. Dr. Ranney responded that due to the low supply of PPE and the lack of domestic production of PPE, competition between states resulted in price gauging, scammers, and counterfeits.