U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., hosted a telephone town hall on Thursday to inform constituents about the COVID-19 outbreak. The town hall featured health care professionals and highlighted the importance of preventative measures and social distancing.

Dingell began the town hall by explaining the gravity of the coronavirus and the declaration of a state of emergency in Michigan, as well as the guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization laid out for individuals to avoid contracting the virus, including postponing events with over 100 people, staying home if sick, disinfecting all surfaces and washing hands with soap and water.

“Now’s the time for diligence on the part of all of us,” Dingell said. “This is real, and people have to change their behavior … We’ve got to focus on mitigation.”

Sarah Lyon-Callo, the director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, discussed the origin of the coronavirus and common symptoms of the virus.  

“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Five coronaviruses circulate in humans … COVID-19 is the newest coronavirus to infect humans,” Dr. Lyon-Callo said. “This is a virus our bodies haven’t seen before. We need to take very strong action … a lot of people are going to get sick from this virus.” 

Lyon-Callo said the common symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, runny nose and shortness of breath. She also noted that if people feel sick, they should call their health care professionals and added that people should not purchase or wear masks.

“We want you to leave the masks for health care providers and for people who are sick,” Dr. Lyon-Callo said. “It is not going to help us if healthy people are buying up the masks … (We) need to leave those for health care providers and people who are sick.”

Participants of the town hall were already feeling the effects of the mask shortage. One caller discussed how her husband, who is a dentist, was unable to purchase the masks he needs to keep himself safe from COVID-19. The caller stated that only thin “level-one masks” are available and they are not what the CDC recommends using.

The constituent asked what the federal government can do to deal with this shortage.

Dingell responded that the Trump administration can help speed the production of products that are in need, and that Vice President Mike Pence met with manufacturing company 3M to discuss the increased production.

“3M said that they can produce 35 million masks, but there are unfortunately liability issues there,” Dingell said. “I think that the bills that we passed today will waive liability … so that we can increase the production of masks and get more out there. We’re working on other issues with the Coronavirus Task Force at that national level.”

The final issue Dingell discussed was how she is committed to get more test kits for coronavirus available both nationally and within the state of Michigan, a pressing issue as the virus spreads in the United States.

“I’m focused on how do we get more test kits, we are all focused on that in Washington, at the state level and at the local level,” Dingell said. “We want to make sure that if there are people that need to be tested, they are tested … I think that awareness of this as an issue has become multiplied by a factor of probably 500 percent in the last few days.”

Dingell concluded the town hall by reiterating her office’s availability to help all constituents with any difficulties they may face.

“You can also ask questions on my website, and we will answer them. If you’ve got case work, you can call it, put it on the website,” Dingell said. “…We’re going to be here for you.”

Reporter Julia Fanzeres can be reached at julfan@umich.edu.

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