A previous photo of Sen. Jeff Irwin accompanying this article was not taken at his town hall, it is a photo from a previous event he attended. The town hall on Wednesday was held virtually.
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County Commissioner Katie Scott held a town hall event on Facebook Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus outbreak and what it means for Washtenaw County.
Scott began the town hall by describing the common symptoms of coronavirus and the actions community members should take if they believe they may be positive for the virus.
“You're going to look for dry cough, sometimes a sore throat and a fever,” Scott said. “If you experience shortness of breath you should presume (you are) positive and do what you can to self-isolate and quarantine yourself.”
Irwin addressed the economic question of what government aid packages do and do not cover, particularly for small businesses and entertainment industry workers.
“We all know that there is an active discussion in D.C. right now,” Irwin said. “We all know that the Senate passed the paid sick leave bill to extend more paid leave, but I think we need some more federal action so that folks who are going without income for a long period of time, they are able to stay home and take care of their families.”
Irwin also commented on the actions already taken by the state legislature to combat the spreading virus.
“The state legislature has taken action, initially we appropriated $25 million and yesterday we increased the appropriation by 125 million,” Irwin said. “About 50 million of that is going to increase the capacity of the health care system in Michigan, 35 million is going into an emergency relief fund and another 40 million to beef up the public health response here in Michigan.”
Irwin and Scott answered a question about current shortages in grocery stores seen in Washtenaw County and elsewhere.
“The supply chain for food and groceries has not been interrupted in any serious way,” Irwin said. “I was in East Lansing and there were tons of employees restocking shelves and pallets of food.”
“We just need to take a deep breath and count on those things being in place,” Scott added.
Scott mentioned the importance of social distancing and compared the shortage of Intensive Care Unit beds to the shortage of toilet paper in local stores.
“The ICU beds will quickly become full,” Scott said. “If we don’t do this social distancing the same rush that we had on toilet paper is going to happen with ICU beds. But social distancing is one of the most important things that we can do right now. I cannot emphasize it enough.”
In addition to measures taken by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and the Michigan Legislature, other efforts have been made to prevent the spread of the virus. Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a temporary ban on assemblages of more than 250 people in the hopes of slowing down the virus’s transmission.
“This is about protecting the most people we can from the spread of coronavirus,” Whitmer said in a Friday press statement. “My administration will continue to do everything we can to mitigate the spread, and to ensure our children, families, and businesses have the support they need during this time. We are going to get through this, but we must be flexible and take care of each other.”
Whitmer later expanded the ban to limit gatherings of 50 or more people.
During the town hall, Irwin also responded to a question about what impact the virus would have on civil liberties going forward into the 2020 presidential elections. Irwin pointed to Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine announced the night before the state’s primary election that polls would be closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We saw what this did to the primary election in Ohio, I think it's important that we make sure that this does not happen with our elections this November and this August,” Irwin said. “And we have lots of time to prepare by pulling out a more aggressive vote by mail program or whether that means taking other measures to make sure that people have the time and availability to vote.”
Irwin and Scott both acknowledged and thanked community members who have been working to help those in need during the pandemic.
“There's a lot of organizations and individuals who are stepping up,” Irwin said. ”I just really want to congratulate those folks who have really been stepping up, there's a lot of opportunities for folks to help and there are a lot of distribution cities across our community.”
Daily staff reporter Sarah Payne can be reached at email@example.com.