Maryland’s U.S. senators want the Trump administration to issue a clear directive for federal employees to telework whenever possible during the public health crisis caused by COVID-19.
President Trump announced guidelines Monday for Americans to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and the administration has encouraged agencies in the Washington, D.C., area to offer “maximum telework flexibilities” to eligible employees.
But Maryland Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are asking Trump to go further by ordering federal agencies to maximize telework unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.
“The federal government needs to lead by example,” Van Hollen said Monday in a conference call with reporters. He said there’s “incredible inconsistency” between the president’s recommendation to limit groups to fewer than 10 people and the fact that the administration hasn’t mandated telework for all eligible government workers.
“We are still being contacted by federal agencies saying that they don’t have enough clear direction from the White House and a lot of federal employees are feeling very vulnerable,” Van Hollen said. He noted that many government workers in the region travel to work on the Metro, potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus.
Van Hollen and Cardin joined other Democrats sending Trump a letter on Monday asking the president to sign an executive order that mandates telework for all eligible federal workers, and expands telework options for others.
“Let’s be consistent and let’s maximize telecommuting,” Cardin told reporters.
‘Beginning of the pandemic’
The Maryland senators were joined on the call by Dr. Kevin Sowers, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System, who outlined the steps Hopkins is taking to attempt to mitigate the crisis, as well as some of his concerns.
“This is the beginning of the pandemic in the United States,” he said.
Sowers noted that his organization currently has a capacity of between 160 to 180 beds available to COVID-19 patients, and plans to cancel elective surgeries starting on Wednesday to create additional bed capacity.
He said Hopkins can currently conduct between 80 and 100 coronavirus screening tests per day, but he expects to be able to do 1,000 by the end of the week. He also expects the hospital to eventually shorten turnaround time for getting results from up to five hours down to two hours.
Sowers said he’s concerned about having adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer. He’s also concerned about staffing challenges as the virus continues to spread.
‘Wage a war on the coronavirus’
Both Cardin and Van Hollen urged Congress to swiftly pass the federal aid package that cleared the House early Saturday morning, and they pressed lawmakers to quickly get to work on yet another coronavirus response bill.
“We do need to wage a war on the coronavirus,” Van Hollen said. “This is a huge challenge for the country. We need to mobilize.”
Cardin said he expects even more dramatic measures in response to the virus. Asked whether there was consideration of a nationwide or statewide lockdown, Cardin said, “I don’t think any of us can predict what steps can be taken in the next couple days or weeks.”
He added, “I think we have to anticipate that there will be more measures imposed for so-called social distancing and that may well be interpreted as a lockdown.”