On the evening of March 19, U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee and Eric Swalwell each hosted town halls over the telephone to talk about how Alameda County and the federal government are working on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Lee’s guest speakers included representatives from the Alameda County Public Health Department, Alameda County Community Food Bank, Alameda County Schools, and Oakland Unified School District.
Swalwell spoke with faculty from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Congresswoman Lee clarified that the official order ‘shelter in place’ means that staying at home is critical, but people can go outside to get food or medicine, see the doctor, exercise, or other ‘essential activities.’ When outside, people need to practice ‘social distancing’ by keeping physical space between each other.
Schools throughout Alameda County have set up distance learning programs online, and a few in the form of paper packets.
The main focus is to acquire more computers for students while partnering with internet providers to offer free Wi-Fi until the school year returns to normal. The schools are hiring additional personnel to distribute food to children who depend on school meals for their food security.
Alameda County Food Bank has shifted to pre-packing bags of groceries for recipients. They also want to raise awareness of how many people are eligible for the CalFresh program and don’t use it or even know they are eligible. There are no predictions of shortages in the national food supply. The best way to help the Food Bank right now is to donate money.
Congressman Swalwell mentioned companies in the East Bay that will begin to mass-produce “hundreds if not thousands” of coronavirus testing kits. Local science facilities can analyze the results of 300 to 800 tests within a 24 hour period. He stressed the importance these kits have in stopping the virus because “the more we know, the better we can contain it.”
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the novel (new) coronavirus, whose common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, similar to the flu. The virus is spread mostly through coughing, but sometimes through touching infected surfaces.
This coronavirus is believed to have originated in bats before it spread to humans, according to Dr. Arthur Reingold. The virus started in China, but it is misleading to call it the “Chinese virus” because people of any nationality can be infected.
Swalwell sees the situation as two different crises: health and financial. The health crisis will be over for good when a vaccine is ready in twelve to eighteen months, but taking this special action will shorten the time and let the economy recover sooner.
The Bay Area has to shelter in place until most of the country follows so that the spread doesn’t start all over when someone comes in contact with a community that didn’t have a shelter in place order.
Swalwell will host an additional town hall on March 26 over Facebook Live.