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...The Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance on Wednesday hosted Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Dr. Kerry Gateley, health director for the Central Virginia Health District; and Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, to update the business community about critical work being done in both the health care system and in Richmond during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gateley, health director for the Central Virginia Health District, noted that as of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday there were about 1,500 COVID-19 cases reported statewide and 20 cases in the Central Virginia Health District.
“That number is changing every hour, which creates a challenge for us,” he said.
With every reported case, his staff has to investigate the person infected, call every person with whom the infected individual came into contact and then determine if the individual should be quarantined.
“One case gave us 36 contacts. That’s a lot of calls and we’re doing it and keeping up with it, but as they increase it’s a challenge for us to continue that activity,” he said.
He said part of his job is keeping up with all the information coming out about the virus and relaying it to the public. “It’s all I can do to keep up with it,” he said.
One of the most important pieces of information he wants people to know is those without symptoms or with minimal symptoms can transmit the virus and cause infections.
“That wasn’t totally clear as we were getting started with the outbreak but it emphasizes the importance of social distancing and hand washing,” he said. “This virus is easily transmitted it appears, and that’s why it seems like extreme measures are recommended and required.”
Kaine began by informing listeners about three significant pieces of legislation passed in the last three weeks related to COVID-19.
The biggest piece of that legislation is the $2.2 trillion economic backstop package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which President Donald Trump signed last weekend and Kaine said is most relevant to the business community.
The act is more than twice the size of the economic stimulus passed in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, Kaine said.
Kaine said legislators had to work on this current bill in a short amount of time recognizing the stakes were high, but also said that — unlike any other bill he has worked on — there were senators and House members and their spouses being diagnosed with the virus at the same time.
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“And so we had to work on it in different rooms and with teleconferences, so it was unlike anything I’ve ever done,” he said.
There are five big pillars to the bill: aid to individuals, aid to small businesses, aid to mid- and large-sized businesses, aid to state and local governments and aid to health care providers.
He said the bill is not perfect, and he advised people to reach out to his office with concerns.
“When you act quickly, even with the best of intentions, that’s going to happen,” Kaine said.
Kaine said he has never seen anything like the magnitude of this pandemic.
“And it’s very painful and it affects every family, everyone is worried about their health and the health of the people they love, everyone is worried about financial consequences and it’s hard when you don’t know the end date and anxiety gets accelerated because you don’t know the answers,” he said. “But we’re a resilient people and the United States, frankly, was slow out of the blocks in dealing with the nature of this crisis and that’s regrettable; however, what the U.S. has shown again and again is sometimes we are slow out of the gate, but when we turn our attention to a challenge, we have a momentum unlike anybody else.”
DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said the business communities throughout the state are taking the outbreak very seriously.
“I’m really impressed with the leadership community, it’s really been acting as a partner with local government, state government and federal officials,” he said. “Many businesses are creating innovative ways to stay in the stream of commerce; they’re acting in a way that is very responsible by putting the safety of their employees first.”
Without question, there are some industries that have been impacted more than others, he said, which include hospitality, restaurants and the entertainment industry.
“We don’t know how long this will last and I believe Virginia will emerge with new business practices, new creative and innovative ways to work,” he said.
He said many businesses have remained productive through virtual platforms and been creative with flex time for employees but said even though employers are learning work can be done anywhere, people are built for community.
“We can’t be complete as individuals working from a distance. We have to be connected through other people. We’re productive in technology but we can’t be complete until we find out how we can be connected to each other.”
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.