On Friday, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. agreed to an email exchange regarding the ongoing local response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Q: From your perspective, do you think “we” — and that means the community, the health care system, the government at all levels — were adequately prepared for something like the novel coronavirus outbreak?
The biggest failure has been the lack of testing capacity. We have been flying blind in assessing the breadth and location of the disease. The federal government wasn’t initially prepared and has been slow to respond on testing. We are playing catch-up when every day counts. There has been a lack of a consistent and focused federal response.
I think the state, local, and community response to protect the public has been good. Remembering that this is a new disease, there is much we don’t know. There’s still room for improvement. In particular, communication to the public can be expanded.
Our health professionals and local hospitals have been excellent. The public is in good hands. We must ensure our health care professionals have the necessary resources in the coming weeks.
Later, we can assess and improve the issues with initial preparedness. For now, the focus has to be on slowing the spread of the disease so that our health care system is not overwhelmed and the impact to public health is protected.
Q: You talk about the local hospitals and health care professionals having the “necessary resources” — assuming that’s beyond just tests. So far, do they have what they need? Are you hearing any reports of shortages of necessary supplies for treating patients?
So far, other than testing capacity, I think we are prepared. I have not heard of shortages at hospitals.
The biggest issue going forward is to ensure that we can handle public health needs at the peak of the pandemic. I have emphasized to state and county health officials the need to have a plan to provide resources to communities most affected in coming weeks, and to make the public aware of what the plan will be.
Q: Are you hearing from constituents? What are their biggest concerns? Businesses? Health care professionals?
We are getting a steady stream of inquiries from constituents. For the most part, people are simply seeking information, which we provide or refer them to where they can get accurate, up-to-date information. We’ve also been in contact with our local governments and school districts about issues they are facing.
Q: Do you, personally, think closing schools is the appropriate step for local districts to take?
Some states have closed their schools. New York has allowed school districts to make the decision in consultation with the county health departments. The governor has stated that school closures will not affect state aid. So the decision can be made based on public health, without comebacks about state funding. The county executive has banned after-school activities in Suffolk.
This decision should be based on public health, not politics. I would rely on the recommendations of state and county health officials in making the decision.
Q: How does the president’s declaration of a national state of emergency today change things, as far as the state and local response?
Hopefully, this will finally break the bottleneck on testing that has thwarted state and local efforts. Time will tell.
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