CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is not downplaying the threat of the coronavirus to West Virginia, telling reporters Monday the virus could have a widespread impact if state and federal officials do not prepare.
Manchin’s comments came as Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency across West Virginia.
“I don’t want the state of West Virginia or anyone in our state getting a false sense of any type of security that we’re immune. We are not,” Manchin said. “I’m concerned that that might be the case that people might think.”
Manchin’s concerns stem from the state’s populace. The Kaiser Family Foundation released a report last week indicating 41% of American adults have a higher risk of developing a serious illness if infected with the coronavirus. In West Virginia, more than 734,000 adults — or 51.1% — would be at higher risk if they get the coronavirus.
High-risk individuals include people with heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as individuals older than 60 years old.
“If this thing does take off in West Virginia and we don’t have the health care ability to defend ourselves, it could be devastating to our state,” Manchin said.
Manchin said there is a nationwide lack of coronavirus tests, which is a problem in trying to stop the disease from spreading. Eighty tests in West Virginia have come back negative with the results of four other tests pending.
He added he is reaching out to the Food and Drug Administration about additional tests.
“We have a long way to go in testing to find out how accurate we may be. I’m not naive enough to think that we’ve been totally spared. It just hasn’t shown up yet,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can stay on top of this if it doesn’t spread in West Virginia because I’m afraid it could be lethal if it does because of our fragile and unhealthy population.”
The Senate reconvened Monday after the weekend off with the possibility of voting Tuesday on the House of Representatives’ coronavirus spending package. The House early Saturday approved the measure, which includes free coronavirus testing, funding for food programs and paid sick leave for individuals who work for companies with fewer than 500 workers.
The Senate adjourned for the weekend with many legislators not returning until Monday.
Manchin criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for not having the Senate in Washington, D.C.
“It makes no sense at all. I can’t give you a reason why we were adjourned when we could have been sitting here, at least for one day,” he said. “We’ve got vulnerable senators, most of them are older than 60, 65 years of age … they’re jumping on planes flying all over the country this weekend, and they’ll fly back in tonight. It makes no sense at all.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor Monday he was upset the Senate did not pass the House bill over the weekend.
“But Leader McConnell, regrettably and almost inexplicably, decided to send everyone home and call them back today,” Schumer said.
Technical changes to the House bill had to be approved Monday before the chamber could send the measure to the Senate.
“Senators on both sides are eager to act quickly to support American workers, families, and small businesses,” McConnell said on Twitter.
Schumer also pitched a plan worth at least $750 billion for addressing the effects of the coronavirus. Provisions of the measure include federal funding for hospital treatment, expanding unemployment insurance and boosting Medicaid.
Manchin said he wants to first consider the House measure “as quickly as we can.”
“We don’t have a perfect piece of legislation. We have to do everything we can,” he added. “If they want to start playing politics and start blaming — whether it’s Democrats or Republicans — that’s crazy. This illness, this disease is attacking Democrats and Republicans. They don’t care who you are. If you’re in its way, it’s going to get you.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Monday she will vote for the House legislation.
“This is not a Republican and a Democrat time to be dividing this country. We need to pass this relief package so we can get to work on the next one,” she said.
The House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in a 363-40 vote. GOP Reps. David McKinley and Carol Miller voted for the bill, while Rep. Alex Mooney and 39 other Republicans opposed the measure. Michigan independent Justin Amash voted “present.”