Sen. Steve Daines R-Mont., held a virtual town hall Friday to provide and update on the COVID-19 pandemic and what he’s been doing to combat it, as well as hear from the public.
“I want to hear your opinions and get your voices on these issues that are important during this pandemic and also to help you get answers about protecting your health, your safety, your finances, not just for yourself, but for your family, your friends, your loved ones,” Daines said.
“I do want to offer my condolences to anyone whose lost a friend in family member,” he said.
Daines talked about bringing more than a billion dollars to Montanaa to help fight the pandemic, and bringing more personal protective equipment.
Daines said despite the CARES Act adding to the deficit, he voted for it because the need was great and immediate.
“We couldn’t afford it, we are borrowing money to do this. On the other hand, we couldn’t afford not to do it,” he said.
Daines said one of the most important things for Montana and the U.S. going forward is the creation of drugs to treat COVID-19.
“We want to accelerate the manufacturing of these drugs, these lifesaving drugs, that can treat and prevent the virus,” he said.
Daines said Moderna, a bio-technology company based in Massachusetts, received funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to accelerate the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. He said this was a huge step forward in the development of a vaccine.
He also said increased testing will be a vital part of the state and nation’s ongoing response to the pandemic.
“Really important that we get more wide-scale testing across our state, and across our country,” Daines said.
He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is close to completing their set up of the $9.5 billion program to help agriculture workers as part of the CARES Act. Daines said he’s putting pressure on USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to make those funds available as quickly as possible.
Daines encouraged anyone who haven’t received their aid checks authorized by the CARES Act theirs yet to go to https://www.irs.gov to see where they stand in the process.
He said despite the severity of pandemic and the ongoing relief efforts, he believes it’s time for Montana to begin the process of re-opening its economy.
“Montana has met the federal guidelines and the state can now begin working to safely re-open the economy,” Daines said.
Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that the state was monitoring the confirmations and could begin a phased re-opening.
Daines said public health should remain the top priority, but that the continued economic damage caused by the pandemic is something that needs to be addressed as well.
“I was speaking to one of their leaders in the Kalispell hospital… there are only two cases of COID-19 patients in the hospital and yet they just had to furlough 600 of their employees,” said Daines.
He said Montana is not New York, and the worst-case scenarios have been avoided, which makes opening the economy a smart move now that transmission is slowing.
“The worst was prepared for, but thankfully the worst didn’t happen, so it is really time to start applying some common sense,” he said.
Daines said the sheer number of Montanan’s who’ve filed for unemployment is evidence that the economy of Montana needs to be re-opened.
“We have over 70,000 Montanans now that have filed for unemployment in the last four weeks,” he said.
Daines also said he was setting his sights on getting the nation’s economy opened as well.
“I was asked by President Trump to be on his task force to safely re-open America and I’m working to do that,” he said.
He said the task force is bi-partisan and will be focusing on doing whatever it takes to get the economy running again.
Daines also criticized the Democrats for not working with Republicans to reload the Paycheck Protection Program which recently ran out of money, which he called, “upsetting” and “ridiculous.”
“I’m very disappointed that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have continued to block funding that,” he said.
He said Democrats should stop debating the minor details and pass the funding because it is needed so urgently.
“Let’s get this done now, because these employers and these workers need relief now,” Daines said.
Democrats have asked for data to make sure that the money already used is going to the businesses for which it is intended and have demanded that other funding be included, such as funding for hospitals and the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and to expand coronavirus testing.
They have offered counterproposals to the Republican bill which have been denied by the Republicans.
Daines said he also has been working to hold China accountable for its handling of the coronavirus, which he believes was deceptive.
“China’s lack of transparency and their cover up of the virus definitely contributed to the expansion of this pandemic,” he said.
Daines said he believes China should have locked down Wuhan, the original epicenter of the virus, and been more transparent about how widespread the virus was.
He said doctors and journalists in China raised concerns about the virus before the government properly responded and have been retaliated against.
“They were silenced by the communist dictators in China, in fact many of them have literally disappeared,” he said.
Daines also accused the World Health Organization of turning a blind eye to China’s cover-up and were complicit in it.
“The World Health Organization needs to be held accountable for being way too cozy with China and not telling the world the truth,” he said.
Daines aid the pandemic also has exposed the fact that the U.S. is relying too heavily on drugs and personal protective equipment manufactured in China and argued that the U.S. should begin manufacturing those things itself.