Beyer Interview: COVID-19 Was Avoidable

Virginia Congressman Don Beyer has been quarantined at home with his wife for nearly three weeks.

The three-term Democrat Congressman has been to Congress once in that time, to vote for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. He and his staff have been working up to 12 hours a day from their homes for weeks now.

Beyer announced on March 10 that he and his wife, Megan, would quarantine after having dinner in Old Town with a D.C. resident who later tested positive with COVID-19. Beyer and his wife are not currently symptomatic. Incidentally, Beyer’s grandfather, Otto Beyer, lost his first wife and young son in 1918 to the Spanish Flu, so for him the virus hits a personal note.

In a brief phone interview, Beyer told ALXnow that the next COVID-19 aid packages will help out state and local governments more, in addition to small businesses like gyms and assistance for trade associations.

ALXnow: How are you and your wife feeling?

Beyer: We’re been self-quarantined for 19 or 20 days now. It’s good. We’re trying to model the behavior that all of us should be doing to the extent possible.

ALXnow: The infected friend you and your wife had dinner with — how is he?

Beyer: He is recovering. His fever broke on his 77th birthday. And, interestingly, no one else that he was at the dinner party with seemed to get sick either. He did not prove to be a Typhoid Mary himself.

ALXnow: Since then you have been in isolation. Did you go to Congress to vote for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security [CARES] Act?

Beyer: I went last Friday morning when we had the major CARES package, which provides for all the small businesses. I went to the Congress for that because we weren’t sure we thought we would need a quorum, which in this case is 215 members of Congress. So I felt that, especially somebody who lived closer to Congress, I had a real responsibility to show up. I didn’t want my older colleagues flying across the country, and risking getting COVID-19 on an airplane.

I waited in my car in the parking lot until it was my turn to come speak on the floor. It was really interesting to be in Congress that day because people would speak 30 seconds or a minute, and then would retreat to the far recesses of the upper gallery or in the far corners. Everyone was trying to be on their best germ-free behavior.

ALXnow: When are you going back to work on Capitol Hill?

Beyer: Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, said don’t plan on coming back to Congress in person until April 20. We’re still working 12-to-14 hour days right now. I can’t tell you how many conference calls I’ve been on today. In fact, we just got off one for an hour long with 340 nonprofits in Alexandria and Falls Church, talking about how they can access the small business loans. Tomorrow night [April 1] we’ll have a town hall meeting from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and one we had last week had 3,000 people on it.

ALXnow: How can residents and businesses take advantage of the CARES Act?

Beyer: Any small business with fewer than 500 employees and nonprofit will be able to go to their bank and apply for the Small Business Administration 100% fully-funded government-guaranteed loan. So no credit applications, and if you maintain your employment base the government will forgive it, which means 0.5% interest rates and the first payment isn’t for six months. There’s a really a wonderful deal, and then if you make less than $75,000, or $150,000 per couple, you also get the direct payment of 1,200 dollars plus $500 for each child. My guess is that there will be more coming in subsequent packages. This is just a one-time payment.

ALXnow: What other legislation will need to be enacted at the Federal level?

Beyer: We’re already on package number four, which will be addressing a lot more help for state and local governments. Probably begin to think about infrastructure. We also were looking at things we left out of the legislation. For example, we didn’t do anything to help trade associations, and we have a lot of trade associations in Arlington and Alexandria. We didn’t do anything to help fitness clubs. All these places that are closed down aren’t getting any help.

ALXnow: What can the federal government do to expand the availability of testing at the local level?

Beyer: There are the best scientists all over the country, all over the world, trying to figure out how to make tests that test quickly that are readily available and that are affordable. It’s very frustrating that little South Korea has tested tens of thousands of people. We were caught flat-footed, and we don’t have to be pointing fingers of blame, we just were. Now we just have to struggle to catch up and be better prepared in the future. My wife and I haven’t been tested yet, and there are a lot of breakthroughs happening. I really do think there’s gonna be more good news and bad news.

ALXnow: Speaker Pelosi mentioned the possible repeal on the SALT [state and local tax deductions] cap. Where do you stand on that?

Beyer: I do support it. It’s hit our district very very hard. The fundamental issue is fairness. We had state and local taxes long before we had a federal income tax. It’s always been deductible. I’ve seen numbers that people in Alexandria have had their net tax bills go up $5,000, because they can’t deduct their state and local taxes. I was a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal it, which has already passed the house.

ALXnow: Does Governor Northam’s stay at home order go far enough?

Beyer: Yeah, I think it put us in sync with Maryland and with Washington DC. I was thrilled that he closed the colleges and universities especially Liberty, which I think was the poster child for irrationality and danger to public health. I also thought that his limiting groups to two or three people and asking people to stay at home is very responsible. We’ve learned from Italy and, to a lesser extent from China andSouth Korea, that the sooner we act, the flatter the curve, the fewer people get sick.

ALXnow: The White House is saying upward of 200,000 Americans may be killed by this. That’s more deaths than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam and Korea combined. Is this the administration’s fault, or was this catastrophe unavoidable as it seems the entire world was unprepared?

Beyer: It was definitely not unavoidable. People have been warning about this for years, that the long-term thinkers have been aware that pandemics come and go, and that we were overdue… You can hold Donald Trump to task for ignoring it for the first couple of months and hoping it would just go away. But the long term impact, we only have American policymakers to blame, and my hope is that we should never be this unprepared again.

ALXnow: As far as the November election goes, primaries are being pushed back. What are Democrats talking about with the national convention in Milwaukee in July?

Beyer: One of the things we didn’t get done in this CARES bill was voting at home, the ability to mail in ballots. A number of states have it like Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and they do really well with it. I’m hoping that in the fourth or fifth coronavirus package that we are able to provide the idea of voting at home. The convention — I have no idea. It sort of depends on where we are in the pandemic.

We’ll still almost certainly have a nominating process of some kind. For example, the 8th District Nominating Convention, has been cancelled as an in-person event but it could still happen virtually, or it may happen through mail. We’re all adapting like crazy right now. We’re finding ways to make things happen, and my hope is that in November that we will be able to vote in person.

We just have to take it a day at a time. We’re learning new things every day, not just about the virus but about our culture and how it works and how we adapt. I’ve always felt that one of the marks of the most successful people is that they are the most adaptive.

ALXnow: How is this pandemic going to change our lives?

Beyer: In the case of 9/11, in a country with 300 million people, if we all made 10 small changes in our lives it meant three billion changes and we haven’t had any major attacks since. So, we will make the same kind of changes now, and that will reduce the likelihood the frequency the impact of the next novel virus.