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Rep. Paul Tonko Holds Telephone Town Hall As New York Begins Reopening

Rep. Paul Tonko
WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas
Rep. Paul Tonko

Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko held a telephone town hall Wednesday night with experts to answer questions about response efforts to COVID-19.

Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York’s 20th District, had a message for government and constituents alike as his home state moves toward recovery even as COVID-19 continues to spread in other parts of the country.

“We need to be patient, we need to be rigorous, and we need as much testing, and tracing, and treatment as we can get,” said Tonko.

During his telephone town hall, Tonko was joined by medical experts and officials representing the business and education communities.

While northeast states have banded together for a regional reopening strategy, Tonko says there needs to be more leadership from Washington. He has called for a national model for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and other strategies seen as key to controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

“And we can’t be broken down to individual states of compliance and standards, we shouldn’t have states competing with each other for testing equipment and PPE – it’s just not the best way to do things, and there needs to be examples set by all in leadership in this country so that there’s not a mixed message that causes confusion,” said Tonko.

As the U.S. surpasses 100,000 coronavirus deaths, Tonko is urging the Senate to vote on the HEROES Act, which passed along party lines in the House earlier this month.

The Democrat voted for the $3 trillion COVID relief package that faces a roadblock in the Republican-led Senate.

“For those who say wait for the HEROES Act, in terms of response the HEROES Act…I rhetorically ask, wait for what? Another 100,000 deaths? Wait for another 1.7 million cases? Wait for further devastation to individuals and families? Wait for more damage done to the revenue streams of our hospitals and nursing homes? I don’t think wait is an answer.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has warned that without federal funding for state and local governments, school districts in New  York could face a 20 percent cut in aid.

Dr. Raymond Colucciello, interim superintendent at the Greater Amsterdam School District, is hoping for the aid that he says will be needed to adapt to the challenges brought by COVID-19, including distance learning and maintaining safe, clean schools. He asked those on the call to be supportive of school budget votes set for next month.

“June 9th is going to be important for 700 school districts in the state. And that is, what kind of support do they get at the local level and where do they go from here? And we’re all waiting with baiting breath for more stimulus from Washington to help us through some of the things that the Congressman said: PPEs, sanitized material, custodial work, extra cleaning. All of those things. Every community is going to be facing it as we move ahead with our plans,” said Colucciello.

Dr. Colucciello said school districts are working together on a regional basis to develop plans for reopening, with plans due to the state education department by July 15th.

Phase Two of reopening businesses begins for some parts of New York on Friday. The Capital Region’s Phase Two will be a few days behind, slated for next Wednesday.

Officials are continuing to urge residents to take precautions and wear a mask in public. As more businesses open, Mark Eagan, President and CEO of the Capital Region Chamber, said retailers should take steps to make sure customers feel safe.

“And I would say that if you walk into a business and you think there’s other customers, you don’t feel safe with the environment…my personal advice would be to leave. You know, because I think we each need to look out for ourselves first and our loved ones. And I think that’s why we know we’re supposed to wear masks, not just to protect us but more importantly to protect other people,” said Eagan.

Though the first surge in COVID-19 cases in New York may have passed, the virus is still present and spreading. Dr. David Liebers, Vice President of Medical Affairs, Chief Medical Officer, and Infectious Disease Specialist at Ellis Medicine, was asked if testing positive for coronavirus antibodies means you are immune to future infection and can no longer spread the disease. Liebers is hopeful that’s the case, but the science is still out.

“We’re hoping that the antibody means you are immune, that’s being studied very thoroughly right now. And we’re hoping that having antibody also means you are not spreading the virus. We don’t know that for sure, but we are hoping that’s what we will learn in the not-too-distant future,” said Liebers.

Audio of the town hall meeting is posted below: 


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