Daines talks COVID-19 in telephone town hall

Montana has received thousands of masks, gloves and other protective equipment from the National Strategic Stockpile, U.S. Senator Steve Daines said Wednesday during a telephone town hall meeting.

At the meeting, Daines also discussed the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill and effect on the national debt and economy, social distancing, and frontline workers. Referring to a report from the stockpile, the Republican said that over the past few weeks, Montana has received approximately:

  • 79,000 N95 masks
  • 188,000 surgical masks
  • 39,000 face shields
  • 32,000 surgical gowns
  • 1,900 coveralls
  • 209,000 gloves

Nationwide, the New York Times reported, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has delivered more than 11.6 million N95 masks, 5.2 million face shields and 22 million gloves from the stockpile, nearly emptying it of personal protective equipment.

On the call with the senator, Don Whalen said he expected the gear that Missoula Emergency Services, Inc. received will last it through April, and he thanked Daines’ office for assistance in procuring it. “I was just letting you know we appreciate what you did for us.”

Daines, up for re-election this year, thanked Whalen for his work and said “we are working hard to make sure we not only have PPE, personal protective equipment, for our frontline healthcare providers, but as Don just mentioned, for our frontline first responders who are equally exposed as they go out to help people,” he said.

All three members of Montana’s Congressional Delegation voted for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the $2.2 trillion aid bill that President Donald Trump signed into law this past Friday, and have held virtual town halls about the situation. During Daines’s event Wednesday, one caller, identified as Shane from Great Falls, asked about the bill’s price tag.

“When is Congress going to start taking a hard look at our deficit and start beginning to work diligently to reduce it?” he asked. The U.S. national debt is currently approaching $23.7 trillion.

Daines said he was deeply concerned about the debt, and supported adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and reforming federal budgeting numbers. But he also said that he considered the $2.2 trillion measure a necessary one.

“Granted we just spent 2.2 trillion dollars that in many ways we don’t have, that can be added to the debt, but when you look at a $20 trillion economy that the U.S. has, as we look at where this economy is headed, as we look at what the pandemic could do to us both from a health viewpoint and an economic viewpoint, Congress has to act.”

“We have the support of President Trump, support of the House, support of the Senate because we’re risking a $20 trillion economy … and that is why it’s important that we pass this to protect the American people, and frankly to protect our economy over the next eight to 12 weeks.”

Another caller, Bridget from Missoula, asked about workers’ protections in a moment when health experts are recommending social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. 

“What can we do if we encounter certain supervisors at work that are not following the social distancing protocol?” she asked. “Is there any resources (that workers can access) without repercussions as far as being fired (for) speaking out?”

The federal government warns that virus-carrying droplets can spread as far as six feet from an infected person and recommends putting that distance between oneself and other individuals. Montana is also under a statewide shelter-in-place order until at least April 10.

“It’s going to take all of us,” Daines said. “Sometimes, it’s going to take the courage of an employee to say something to their boss (or) their superintendent … .There are clear guidelines here that we’re asking for with social distancing, and everybody’s got to play their part. And I’ll tell you, if we all do our part we’re going to come through this a lot faster.”