Barragán Hosts Town Hall, Addresses COVID-19 Pandemic

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By Hunter Chase, Reporter

Rep. Nanette Barragán hosted a phone town hall meeting April 9, as part of a series of weekly meetings designed to inform the public on the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the meeting, Barragán said that $1,200 stimulus checks will be sent to taxpayers starting on the week of April 12. The Internal Revenue Service will be making direct deposit payments to people who filed 2018 or 2019 taxes using the direct deposit information that people have provided for their returns. People who pay for their taxes with paper checks or who are on social security will be in the second round of stimulus checks, which will start coming out 10 days later.

In addition, Congress is working on a second stimulus package, Barragán said.

“We are talking about things like extending loan forgiveness; we’re talking about extending unemployment time for benefits; we’re talking about trying to get additional stimulus checks because one is not going to be enough,” Barragán said. “$1,200 is not going to cover the rent; it’s not going to pay your bills up for the length of this.”

Worldwide, there are about 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 that have been diagnosed, said Dr. Jan King from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. However, because of a lack of testing, the actual number of cases is probably much higher.

“What we’re going to see over the next couple of weeks is that these numbers are going to continue to rise until hopefully we reach a plateau and then over time it will decrease,” King said.

In Los Angeles County, there have been 10,047 diagnosed cases as of April 14. There have been 360 related deaths.

There are disparities among the people that are infected, King said. African-Americans are seeing a higher rate of death from COVID-19 when compared to other races. African-Americans make up 9% of the population of Los Angeles County, but are 17% of the people who die from the virus. Other cities, like Chicago and Detroit, have seen similar disparities. It is really important that African-Americans that do become ill speak to their physicians and get tested quickly, King said.

King said that African-Americans who have chronic underlying diseases need to follow the safer at home orders to avoid spreading the virus.

“The best way to avoid a really bad outcome and dying is not to get COVID at all,” King said. “Stay in communication, because communication is really important with friends and family, but do that electronically.”

About 340 healthcare workers in the county have been diagnosed with COVID-19, King said. Nurses have been infected the most. Two healthcare workers have died from the virus. The county is trying to prevent this by ensuring that healthcare workers have proper personal protective equipment.

As of April 10, Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered Angelenos to wear masks in places of business. All non-medical essential employees must wear a face covering. This includes retail workers, take-out restaurant employees, gas station employees and hotel and motel workers.

In addition, the order requires that businesses allow employees to wash their hands every 30 minutes, Barragán said. She encouraged people to call her office at 310-831-1799, if their place of work is not complying with these rules.

“You have a right to be protected at work,” Barragán said. “Businesses also have a right to turn you away if you’re a customer who’s not wearing a face mask.”

These masks do not have to be medical grade.

People who are asymptomatic can still be carriers and still infect other people, King said. Garcetti’s order to wear face masks is to prevent people from unknowingly spreading the virus.

“It’s really critical that as we move forward that we are protecting ourselves but at the same time as protecting the rest of the community,” King said.

Michael Romero, superintendent for the Local District South of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was also present at the meeting. He said that his district, which has 150 schools and almost 100,000 students, sent all students home on March 13 with two weeks of instructional material that could be done with pencil and paper. During the following week, the staff and faculty had to quickly plan how they would teach virtually.

On March 30, online instruction began.

“All teachers are currently teaching online to the best of their abilities,” Romero said. “This is all new to everybody and they’re growing daily and getting better.”

All teachers have one virtual office hour three days a week, Romero said. In addition, all the electronic devices at the school that could be used for online work were sent home with the students.

“Our general superintendent Austin Beutner has made a $100 million investment in devices,” Romero said. “They’re coming currently and they’re being shipped to our elementary schools.”

On April 13, the schools began distributing the devices, Romero said. Principals communicated with families and coordinated when they could pick them up. This was done using masks and six-foot distances.

“A lot of our families did not have devices, nor internet access,” Romero said. “So we have Charter Spectrum, Comcast, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, there’s a lot of providers that have come through with free internet.”