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Neal, Baystate CEO take questions on coronavirus, government action

March 18, 2020
In The News

NORTHAMPTON — In a telephone town hall Wednesday with President and CEO Mark Keroack of Baystate Health on the novel coronavirus, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal spoke about getting financial help to Americans while Keroack, a medical doctor with an infectious disease specialty, addressed aspects of the virus itself.

“As your representative in Washington I take this moment very seriously and earnestly,” Neal said at the start of the town hall.

The congressman pointed to the bill that recently passed the U.S. House that would, among other things, extend sick leave to some workers, ensure free testing for the coronavirus for all Americans and extend unemployment insurance.

“We know that more needs to be done,” Neal said.

Neal spoke about getting money to Americans in the near term, and said the cutoff for how much someone could make before being eligible for receiving government funds is being discussed.

He wants to see it in the hands of people who will spend it, he said: “We need that economic activity.”

He also said the United States should begin a major infrastructure program once the country gets back on its feet.

Speaking after the town hall, Neal said there have been discussions about giving cash payments to people who make less than $50,000, although a higher threshold has also been sought and he doesn’t know what threshold he supports at this time.

An infrastructure program, he said, could begin as early as May.

Neal also called the economic fallout from the coronavirus “entirely different” from the 2008 financial crisis.

“This is about an international health crisis that we confront,” he said.

In response to questions during the town hall call-in, Neal said he favored putting additional cash in the hands of Social Security recipients. After the meeting, he clarified that there should be an income ceiling for any such increase.

Keroack, for his part, answered a number of specific questions about the coronavirus during the call-in session.

“It can look like any kind of cold or flu you’ve ever had,” Keroack said, which makes it difficult to identify.

On its survivability on surfaces, Keroack said that there have been limited studies, but the novel coronavirus seems to last for several hours on surfaces, with concentrations declining fairly rapidly. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine published Tuesday suggests that the coronavirus expires during a day on cardboard, although it can live for three days on plastic and steel.

Keroack said that while he’s unsure how significant surface transmission is in spreading the disease, frequently touched surfaces are worth disinfecting.

Money should be treated like any other surface, he said, and people should wash their hands after handling it.

Asked if the elderly should avoid going to the grocery story, Keroack said, “I wouldn’t put an absolute prohibition on it.”

Elderly people who aren’t frail and don’t have chronic illnesses should be able to go grocery shopping, although he advised hand-washing before and after and avoiding shopping at times when the grocery store is crowded.

He also said that he hasn’t seen the disease be more severe or common in children who haven’t gotten their usual childhood vaccinations.

On the question of whether you can get the coronavirus again after recovering from it, Keroack said one can expect to not get sick with it again for at least some period of time.

Asked if the virus is airborne in the same way that the measles virus is, Keroack said that it is not, as the measles virus can live on a speck of dust, and the coronavirus lives on airborne droplets of water.