We need a national coronavirus strategy. I'm working with both sides to set it
Opinion: A lack of a national strategy is hurting our coronavirus response and recovery. Here's what I've been doing to hit the ground running on this.
Earlier this month, I hosted a coronavirus briefing with public health experts and Arizona community and business leaders. It’s clear that we’re still facing many of the same challenges as when the virus first hit Arizona nine months ago.
Dr. Joe Gerald, a member of my transition team and a researcher at the University of Arizona who has been analyzing COVID-19 data, described how cases are rising quickly and that our health-care system could soon be struggling to keep up, just like it did last summer.
Once again, Arizona’s working families and small business owners are looking for ways to get through this crisis with little leadership from Washington.
It’s clear that the lack of a national strategy is still hurting our response and recovery. And yet, Washington hasn’t provided the additional support that Arizonans need now. As cases spike yet again, programs to help Arizonans make ends meet are facing deadlines that, if not met, could damage our economy even further.
We're facing long-term damage if we don't act
Arizonans trusted me with the responsibility of serving as their next United States senator. That’s why in the days after the election, I quickly assembled a bipartisan transition team made up of Republican and Democratic leaders from across the state with expertise in public health, business, education, water, the border and issues impacting seniors.
It’s important to me to have a transition team that not only represents every corner of Arizona, but one that will work with me to tackle this public health and economic crisis with the urgency that it requires. Because this is an emergency and we can’t wait any longer to take action.
In December, the federal moratorium on evictions is set to be lifted, the deferment on student loan payments is scheduled to end, and more than 10 million Americans could lose their eligibility for jobless benefits that are keeping them afloat. These programs, if allowed to expire, could make this winter even tougher for Arizonans.
We also can’t forget that Arizona is home to more than 500,000 small businesses. They face the threat of closing for good. Those closures could have a ripple effect on the more than 1 million Arizonans employed by a small business. The long-term damage to our economy could be catastrophic if Washington doesn't act, and quickly.
I'm working with the GOP to solve this
Arizona’s roadmap to economic recovery needs to include additional capital to keep small businesses open and keep workers on payroll, as well as an extension of expanded federal unemployment benefits for Arizonans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
We also need a national strategy – first to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus by encouraging people to wear masks and social distance and making testing more accessible, and then to beat the virus with a sustained public health campaign to encourage vaccination and a well-organized infrastructure to quickly distribute a vaccine once it is proven safe and effective.
These are necessary and critical steps to take if we are to put this crisis behind us and get our state and country back on track.
I know I can’t fix this alone. That’s why I have spent the past few weeks reaching out to my Republican colleagues in the Senate to find common ground. Because working together is always the most effective way to solve a problem.
That’s something that Sen. John McCain understood. He left a legacy of service and independence that can’t be matched, but should be honored with action and leadership in the face of adversity. I am committed to serving all Arizonans, regardless of whether you voted for me.
I’m optimistic that Arizona’s best days are still ahead because I’ve seen us solve tough challenges before.
On election night, I said it wasn’t time to celebrate, it was time to get to work. That’s what I’ve done and it’s what I will continue to do when I am sworn in as your next senator.
Senator-elect Mark Kelly is a Navy combat veteran and a retired NASA astronaut. Twitter: @CaptMarkKelly