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Stories and information in our region on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Rice: House Approves $8B In Coronavirus Aid, Testing Standard Expanded

N.Y. Congresswoman Kathleen Rice
J. Scott Applewhite
Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., talks to reporters in the Capitol in Washington in 2018.

Five more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Westchester County on Wednesday. That makes a total of 11 in New York. The announcement comes as members of Congress were briefed by Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the national Coronavirus Task Force, on the spread of the virus in the U.S. and around the globe. 

After the briefing, the House voted to approve an $8.3 billion emergency bill for coronavirus testing and treatment. New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice was among those at the briefing and vote. 

She spoke with WSHU’s Ron Ropiak shortly after. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Thank you for joining us on All Things Considered.

Thank you for having me. 

What did the vice president tell you? 

So, he was there with his team, you know he’s running the task force, as assigned by the president. It was a packed room, Ron, I have to tell you. There are growing cases that are being diagnosed, and certainly in New York the number is rising.

We wanted to hear directly from the administration, certainly the point person from the administration which is the vice president’s position on this, exactly what they’re doing and the progress they’ve been making on the vaccine, protective personal devices so we can keep our people on the frontline, you know our doctors, our first responders, our nurses safe.

And I’ll tell you, they seem to be on it, but there were a lot of unanswered questions in terms of, they are now relaxing the standards, which is a very good step and I applaud the administration for doing this. Before, you had to have traveled to a certain targeted place, or have contact with someone who did before you could qualify to be tested for the coronavirus.

They have completely relaxed that standard, so if you have any symptoms whatsoever you can go to your doctor and get tested. The problem with that, Ron, is they can only get the results on about 5,000 tests a day, so there’s just an inherent backlog that is problematic from a standpoint of making sure people who are infected are quarantined, and that they do an investigation to see other people they might have come into contact with.

This is still a problem that needs to get under control, but the medical personnel, Dr. Fauci from NIH, is a stellar public servant, and he was there today, and wants people in our positions to go back to our districts and talk to people and assure them that they can get the test if they need to. That’s what we need to do, we need to tell people how to keep themselves safe, wash your hands, all those kinds of things. But you know this is a scary time in this country right now. 

I know the latest bill is for $8.3 billion, that’s for the emergency coronavirus bill. Is that enough money? 

I think in the immediate right now, I think it’s about $6 billion more than the president was asking for, and I think much more of an accurate account to address the needs that we have right now. It seems like every hour there’s another person diagnosed, there was another fatality today. My condolences go out to that person’s family. The amount we are going to vote on in a short time here in D.C. is much more in line with the needs of the health community and the first responders than what the president originally requested for sure. 

New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, thank you for joining us on All Things Considered.

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here.