Byrne discusses COVID-19 status


FAIRHOPE – While COVID-19 continues to rise in the United States, some experts believe that the summer vacation system is possible, US Rep. Bradley Byrne told Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce members on April 9.

Byrne spoke to chamber members through a video conference. He said that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress members and other officials that the outbreak is at its worst now, but conditions could improve in upcoming weeks.

“Dr. Fauci tells us the number of cases has flattened,” Byrne said. “He thinks we’re seeing the very worst of it right at this very moment, that the mitigation that we’ve started doing recently is working. He does believe we’ll be able to start school on a regular basis this fall and he said today that, and this is something I hadn’t heard before, that he thinks we can have something like a regular summer vacation system.”

Byrne said, however, that social conditions in the wake of the coronavirus will be different.

“Now, whatever we thought was normal before is going to be different, so we’re still going to have to practice some social distancing and we’re all going to have to practice incredibly important hygiene for the rest of our lives, which is not a bad thing,” he said.

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams also said the upcoming weeks will be difficult before conditions improve, Byrne said.

“Social distancing is working, according to the surgeon general, but as he said over the weekend, the next few weeks is our Pearl Harbor and we’re going to have to step up to is and I think we are,” Byrne said.

In Alabama, the worst of the outbreak is still to come, but Byrne said he expects the state to have enough medical equipment and hospital rooms to deal with the increase. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Alabama Emergency Management Agency are working to prepare for upcoming cases.

“Our peak in Alabama is a week and a half to two weeks away. We have to make sure we can surge equipment they need. We were on a conference call with FEMA and state EMA and they are prepared to make that surge if it’s needed,” Byrne said. “I hope it’s not needed. I hope that we see this more gradual development of the disease in Alabama that we’ve seen so far, but we’ve got to take this idea that there’s a peak coming up seriously and we’re doing that.”

While social distancing is a key to slowing the spread, isolating the population is having a severe impact on the economy.

“What we have are two national emergencies stacked on top of each other. Both unprecedented in their scope. One, obviously is a major public health issue,” Byrne said. “The other is, because we’re trying to solve that public health issue with extreme social distancing, we’ve got a major economic emergency on our hands.”

He said more than 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in recent weeks.

“That has never, ever, happened before in the United States of America, not even in the Great Depression,” Byrne said. “We’ve gone from this economy that was flying high to one that’s now seeing historic things happen to it. This is what comes from extreme social distancing. This is the economic cost of what we’re dealing with here.”

He said Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin told members of Congress that economic conditions should soon improve.

“Secretary Mnuchin told us he thinks the economy can begin, and I want to emphasize begin, to open up during the month of May.

Byrne said Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. The act is intended to help small businesses stay open and keep their payrolls intact.

Loans will be available to businesses. If the money is used for payroll, salaries, mortgages, rent and utilities, the loans will be forgiven. “It’s like a grant,” Byrne said.

He said that in the first week of the program, 3,800 lenders made more than 400,000 loans totaling $110 billion. In all of 2019, the Small Business Administration made 52,000 loans for $23 billion.

Byrne said unemployment support will also be coming to residents who lost their jobs due to the virus. People filing for unemployment will receive $600 a week in addition to state unemployment benefits. Workers who are laid off and do not return to their jobs when called back, however, would not be eligible for the benefits.