Davis Congressman introduces legislation to increase testing, tracing capacity

Davis Congressman introduces legislation to increase testing, tracing capacity

Photo Credits: Quinn Spooner / Aggie. The office of U.S. Congressman John Garamendi in Downtown Davis.

Representative John Garamendi seeks to employ more government workers to combat spread of COVID-19

On April 21, U.S. Congressman John Garamendi introduced legislation that would expand the country’s COVID-19 testing and tracing abilities. Garamendi is a Democrat in the House of Representatives who represents the 3rd District, which includes Davis. 

Garamendi explained in a tweet that reducing the number of COVID-19 cases and reopening the country will require a large amount of testing and contact tracing. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on our society, and our nation requires a significant scaling of testing and contact tracing in order to flatten the curve and lift stay-at-home orders,” Garamendi wrote. 

Tracing entails asking a patient positive for COVID-19 about their recent contacts, then encouraging them to self-isolate for two weeks, according to the CDC website.

“In contact tracing, public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website reads. “Public health staff then warn these exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible.”

In order to increase testing and tracing capacity, the legislation — the Undertaking National Initiatives to Tackle Epidemic Act (UNITE Act) — calls for an increase in volunteers in various government agencies as well, according to a press release.

“The Undertaking National Initiatives to Tackle Epidemic Act (UNITE Act) would expand volunteer opportunities within AmeriCorps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and direct those agencies to enhance testing and contract tracing to identify and monitor the contacts of infected individuals,” the press release reads. 

Garamendi explained in a tweet that the UNITE Act will also reinstate and offer benefits to the Peace Corps, which was suspended on March 15. 

“The bill would also ensure that @PeaceCorps volunteers, whose service involuntarily ended in March due to the global pandemic, will receive benefits & priority placement in these domestic programs so they can continue to use their skills by facilitating testing & contact tracing,” Garamendi wrote.

Volunteers would further be responsible for “providing nutritional assistance to vulnerable populations; and administrative duties such as staffing call centers to disseminate public-health related information to the public,” the bill reads.

In a telephone town hall, Garamendi explained that the UNITE Act would be responsible for employing as many as 500,000 people in the AmeriCorps. 

“I will be introducing [the UNITE Act] to use the AmeriCorps as a foundation for the employment of anywhere between a half a million and a hundred thousand Americans — young and old — to become part of a Health Corps,” Garamendi said.

Currently, AmeriCorps members receive “a modest living allowance,” according to its website.

The bill also calls the President into action, urging him to use government agencies to expand testing and tracing capabilities.

“It is the sense of the House of Representatives that—the President should fully utilize the competencies of the Federal Government workforce to battle the outbreak of coronavirus, the worst global health emergency the United States has faced in a century” the bill reads. 

Since March 14, Garamendi has also voted for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which increased aid for those economically impacted by the crisis. 

“This bill responds to the COVID-19 […] outbreak by providing paid sick leave, tax credits, and free COVID-19 testing; expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits; and increasing Medicaid funding,” a summary of the bill reads. 

In the press release, Garamendi stressed his confidence in service organizations and their ability to help fight the pandemic through robust testing and tracing. 

“The UNITE Act empowers America’s service organizations to perform testing and contact tracing across the country and deliver the aid and support our communities require during the pandemic. I understand how capable America’s service organizations are to expand our nation’s testing and contact tracing to meet the needs of our country’s pandemic response,” Garamendi said in the press release. 

Written by: Eden Winniford –– city@theaggie.org

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