Friday, March 13, 2020

How Congressional Offices Are Handling COVID-19


While Louie Gohmert takes people on tours of the Capitol and spreads coronavirus far and wide-- note to people in Lufkin, Longview, Nacogdoches and Tyler: keep at least 6 feet away from this crazy version of Typhoid Mary-- other members of Congress have wisely decided to run their offices based on good practices suggested by the CDC. That notice above is on Ted Lieu's door. I believe Mark Takano is also taking the same precautions.

As you probably know, one of the staffers in Senator Maria Cantwell's office, has tested positive for coronavirus. Cantwell's DC office is closed. I asked several offices what they're doing about the pandemic. The best response, predictably, came from Ted Lieu's chief of staff, Marc Cevasco. "Congress," he said, "is obviously a large organization, with thousands of direct and indirect employees, but office policies and staffing are left up to each individual Member of Congress. House offices are relatively small. I manage an office of 10 people in Washington and an office of 8 in L.A. From the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Congressman Lieu has taken the threat seriously and our office has instituted policies to mitigate risk as the situation has evolved."
First and foremost, we have reinforced public health best practices for our staff (this is important all the time, but especially important during a pandemic). Basic best practices include things like washing hands regularly, avoiding touching your face, covering mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and disinfecting workspaces frequently. We also have a generous sick leave policy, which encourages people to stay home from work when they are not feeling well.

Social distancing is the buzzword of the hour-- it basically means you try to limit human contact as much as possible to prevent (or at least slow) the spread of the virus. Last week we limited in-person meetings for the Congressman and staff and had a "no contact" policy for the office (no handshakes etc). We also allowed for flexible arrival and departure times for staff so that we didn’t necessarily have to commute with everyone else on mass transit.

As the situation grew in severity this week, we have moved to 100% teleconference or video conference meetings for our Washington DC office and I have half of our staff working remotely from home. Interns are rotating so we only have one in the office at any one time.

During the upcoming district work period when the House is in recess (and Members are back home working from their districts) the entire Washington office will work remotely. In the district we will have two people manning the phones and everyone else will work remotely. We also will not have district staff attending large community events and meetings (for those few that haven’t already prudently been postponed) for the time being.

I am reminding my staff that this isn’t about them necessarily (most congressional staffers are in their 20s) it is about taking every precaution to prevent the spread of the virus to our older or sicker neighbors. Even delaying the spread of the virus can save lives as it prevents a spike in cases from overwhelming our medical system.

And then this was issued by the House Sergeant at Arms yesterday-- no more tours, Congressman Gohmert. And stop spreading disease, you asshole. Go quarantine yourself.

I asked some of the candidates for Congress how they've changed how they're interacting with staffers and voters and others. Yesterday Omaha progressive Kara Eastman told me that her campaign "has several workers who are paid hourly. I have told them today that if they are sick that they should not come in but they will still get paid for the time they would have worked. We are taking the novel Coronavirus seriously and want to make sure that people are safe and don't have to choose between their health and paying their bills." That's good practice that every campaign should adopt. Later Kara released a public statement that went further: "A comprehensive assessment of currently available data and public health warnings suggest we should avoid events and gatherings. We believe in putting the health and safety of our team, our supporters, and our community first. Therefore, until further notice, the Eastman Campaign will no longer schedule, attend, or engage in any public events."
Furthermore, we’ve taken the step of ensuring that our staff do not feel the need of choosing to work when sick by paying all hourly workers for their shifts if they need to stay home for themselves or a loved one. It is absolutely essential that we put the financial and health needs of our staff and community over other concerns.

Goal ThermometerWe believe and support the excellent work done by local public health officials. It is a true testament to their work that the current number of cases of the novel Coronavirus in Nebraska is relatively limited.

We have decided therefore to continue our door-to-door canvassing. We should note that we have come close to making our first full pass in the district so we are in a position to pivot to phone calls only if need be and we will still be on track with our field goals. We prefer to be guided by science and data, and not fear. It is our policy, however, to wait until schools and other institutions close/convert to online services, to reconsider our canvassing method.

We join with other Democrats in pushing for free and accessible testing for this and all other pandemic conditions.

In conclusion, we will employ all available technological tools to continue to engage with NE-02 voters. Any voters who wish to converse with me should call me at (402) 200-3020.
This morning, Kara added that she's employing "a wide range of innovative technological tools to continue to reach voters and to be a part of the public health conversation." Her 6-point plan for the Corona Virus for NE-02:
Free testing for all
Stimulus package for temporary, part-time and full-time employees
Move to all-mail primary voting
No-cost loans to small businesses
Paid sick leave for all workers
Payment deferment of student loans and student loan interest

Also yesterday, Riverside County, CA progressive congressional candidate Liam O'Mara told us that "Both my campaign and my professional life have been affected. My campuses are closed so that students are not in close contact. Several party events have been cancelled, including the state's eBoard meeting, all the local Dem club meetings, and both a campaign fundraiser and a volunteer appreciation event. Unlike the incumbent, who called this a Democratic hoax in January and okayed the routing of people back from China through a local airport, we take the science seriously, and will follow all precautions from experts." He ws referring to Ken Calvert, who has put his own constituents in jeopardy with his shameful and, as always, fully partisan approach to the pandemic.

Eva Putzova is the progressive candidate running for the Arizona congressional seat occupied by "ex"-Republican Blue Dog Tom O'Halleran. Yesterday she updated her supporters on how her campaign is coping with the pandemic: "Because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, we have paused all door-to-door canvassing and in-person events until the CDC advises otherwise. Up until now, our strength as a campaign has been in energizing people and engaging with voters one-on-one. We have a small army of volunteers across this vast district, but this will mean nothing if the coronavirus crisis lasts for a sustained period. We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our volunteers and every person in our district. So instead of meeting people at their front doors, we are going to execute a broader digital strategy to get onto people’s computers screens and in their mailboxes."

Jennifer Christie, campaigning for an open seat in the suburbs north of Indianapolis told us that her campaign has "changed the way we canvass. We no longer shake hands at the door; instead we have a conversation and engage with voters with a Star Trek/Spock greeting, a 'Namaste,' or a wave. Voters have been receptive, and I think appreciate the conscientiousness."

Robin Wilt explained how her campaign is making the best of a bad situation-- and making it work for herself. "In NY-25, our Monroe County health officials have stressed the importance of 'flattening the curve' of the spread of the virus through social distancing. While the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in our campaign no longer participating in parades, rallies, or other events that bring more than 50 persons together, it has allowed us to reinforce our core strategy-- which is to meet individual voters where they are. We have pivoted to investing more effort in our ground game: knocking on doors and attending smaller community gatherings where we can intimately connect to voters. In essence, we have returned to our roots-- our grassroots, that is."

This morning the progressive running for the Colorado Senate seat, Andrew Romanoff, informed his supporters that he's changing the way he campaigns. "The coronavirus is forcing all of us to change our habits. Our campaign is no exception. Over the last 13 months, we’ve been crisscrossing the state, meeting tens of thousands of Coloradans in backyards and living rooms, coffee shops and brewpubs. That strategy yielded an enormous victory in last weekend’s precinct caucuses; we earned more votes than all the other Democratic candidates combined. But now we’re shifting course. In order to minimize health risks, we’ve decided to virtualize our operations. That means engaging supporters electronically, not in large events.

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At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice plan Kara. So... when is Pelosi going to let y'all start *DOING* your plan?
And when is Pelosi going to let y'all start passing MFA... I mean, pandemic... need I say more?

thought so.

just a reminder that only Pelosi matters. all Kara and the rest do is keep seats warm... virtually even.

Elect all the Karas you want. it's still Pelosi. it's still the party.

maybe a pandemic will finally catalyze an epiphany or two. doubt it.

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only people the Congress critters don't dodge are those with large checks in hand.


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