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Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and four other members of Congress, plan to introduce legislation this week that would help states to keep infection rates under control as they reopen their economies frozen during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bill does not set timeframes by which states should restart economies, but instead stresses that the Covid-19 infection rate be sufficiently low to ensure hospitals are not overwhelmed and that after the economy reopens there are public safeguards in place to ensure the transmission rates remain low.
The proposal, known as the Reopen America Act, would allow states and territories to submit plans to restart economies to the secretary of Health and Human Services for approval.
If accepted, the federal government would then reimburse the states for the cost of monitoring the coronavirus — including paying for contact tracing, additional testing and personal protective equipment — as businesses and other institutions reopen.
However, it remains unclear when this legislation or a similar plan could be enacted, as Congress is not expected to return to session until May 4, a delay from a planned return of next Monday, as debate over the next Covid-19 relief bill continues.
In an interview Wednesday, Welch said it is imperative that Congress and governors begin to strategize how to reopen state economies, but he cautioned there must be policies put in place to ward off infection spikes.
“When you start to gradually reopen, you have to have a plan in place as the Covid-19 virus is still with us,” he said.
“We must have a very solid coordinated public health approach to maintaining and reducing the spread of the virus,” Welch added. “The only entity that can pick up the cost is the federal government but the states are going to be doing the implementation.”
In addition to the federal government picking up the bill for statewide coronavirus monitoring, Welch added he believes it should also pay people who test positive for Covid-19 but are asymptomatic a stipend for the 14 days they will be required to be in quarantine.
The proposal, put forward by Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.; Donna Shalala, D-Fla.; Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.; and Welch comes as governors on the East Coast and the West Coast have created multi-state regional efforts to coordinate responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott announced Vermont has joined a group of states that includes New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts as they begin to decide how to reopen the region’s economies.
Scott also hinted he may ease some of state-mandated restrictions on businesses later this week.
Welch said Scott is taking the right approach and praised him for joining the regional pact, and added that state partnership should continue with the federal government acting as a financial “backstop” for the different states and regions.
“A regional plan — with Gov. Scott and other states — is excellent and a federal backstop for the implementation of the plans is what should be done,” he said.
Welch also addressed President Donald Trump’s plan to open up some state economies by May 1, saying that “if you arbitrarily pick a date, then you can unleash another explosion of spread.”
“Gov. Scott is the one we look to to make the public health decisions not President Trump,” Welch said.
“It’s not who is in charge,” Welch added. “It’s what is the plan.”
“To get through this we have to be all for one and one for all,” he said. “Gov. Scott is doing very well here in Vermont but if poor work is being done elsewhere it will threaten the work he is doing.”
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