Congressman says the clouds are parting in the pandemic

Robert Houk • May 1, 2020 at 8:15 AM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said Northeast Tennessee is “beginning to see some sunshine” in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic

“I believe by June 1 we are going to feel pretty good about going out and doing things," Roe told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

With Gov. Bill Lee deciding to gradually reopen segments of Tennessee’s economy in May, Roe said he thinks the area is “slowly climbing out” of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“We feel like Punxsutawney Phil popping his head out of of the ground to see if the pandemic is over,” Roe said.

The congressman said the pandemic has claimed the lives of 60,000 Americans, and has crippled an economy that had been “one of the best” the nation has seen in many years. 

He said more than 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since the start of the health crisis, adding that the economy has shrunk by 4.8% in the past few months.

Roe said the next quarter’s numbers should be “eye popping” in terms of unemployment claims and business losses.

“It will be ugly,” he said.

The 1st District congressman said COVID-19 has had a “very light touch in our area,” crediting Ballad Health and local government officials for “over-responding” to the pandemic. He said social distancing, hand washing and other precautions have helped to slow the spread of the virus in the region.

Roe said he read in the Press on Thursday that Ballad was treating 12 cases of COVID-19 in its hospitals, with 100 more beds empty. 

He said hospitals, particularly struggling rural hospitals, have been slated to receive a share of $75 billion from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed by Congress in March.

The congressman said he voted for the CARES Act knowing that it was one of the most expensive stimulus programs approved by Congress in more than a decade.

“We had to do it,” he said.

Roe believes President Donald Trump will hold China accountable for the role it played in the global spread of the illness. He said China failed to restrict travel to and from its infected areas in a timely manner, and was slow to inform other nations on how the virus is actually spread.

He also said the president and Congress will do a “deep dive” into current trade with China, and how that has negatively impacted the nation’s supply chain.

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