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Roe says lessons to be learned from coronavirus

Robert Houk • Updated Feb 29, 2020 at 9:00 AM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said Friday he is confident Congress will allocate the funding necessary to protect Americans from the coronavirus.

The 1st District congressman said despite election-year politics and partisan bickering on Capitol Hill, “We are going to provide the resources we need to care for our people.”

Roe, who is a retired physician, told reporters on a conference call it was important for government and health officials —  as well as members of the media —  to “make sure we get factual information out to the people.”

He said the public, as well as the global economic markets, are “dealing with a lot of anxieties” now as a result of the spread of COVID-19, the virus’ official designation.

The congressman said the health community has already learned from its mistakes in containing the virus. He said some of that has been with the help of Dr. Arnold Hopland, an Elizabethton physician, who along with his wife, Jeanie, were among 3,600 passengers on a cruise ship first quarantined for the illness off the coast of Japan on Feb. 5.

After his wife tested positive for the coronavirus, the couple was separated and Mrs. Hopland was taken to a hospital in Tokyo. She has remained there after testing positive once again for the virus. Neither the doctor — who was removed with other passengers from the Diamond Princess and quarantined in a dormitory in Japan — or his wife have been sick with the virus.

Roe said he has been in contact with Arnold Hopland, as well as receiving regular updates on COVID-19, via conference calls with officials from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Homeland Security. 

He said the latest news he has received from Hopland was a text Friday morning that said his wife is fine and is free to return home as soon as she clears travel restrictions with the U.S. Embassy. The doctor said he will have to wait one week before he is removed from travel restrictions.

“I’m very, very pleased that all the folks we got off that cruise ship have recovered or are recovering,” said Roe, who also told reporters it was extremely helpful to have a doctor like Hopland with “eyeballs on” the situation.

The congressman said COVID-19 has proven to be most lethal in the Wuhan region of China where the strain originated. Roe said of the more than 630 cases identified on the Diamond Princess, only one elderly couple from Japan appears to have died from the illness.

Roe said public health officials in the United States have assured him the tests for the coronavirus have “very accurate” in this country. He said test kits are making their way to state and local health departments. 

The congressman said he has encouraged health officials to “go deeper” by making the test kits available to walk-in clinics and hospital emergency rooms. 

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