Washington Third Congressional District candidate Carolyn Long’s virtual town hall had a focus around the current COVID-19 pandemic, with the Democratic challenger looking to unseat Jaime Herrera Beutler saying decisions in response to the disease were best left to medical experts.
The event was the second hosted live on Facebook due to restrictions on public gatherings in place in response to the spread of COVID-19. Long counted it as her 48th town hall event in her campaigning career, saying she had 46 in-person events during the 2018 election cycle.
Long said that had she been in the congressional district seat she would have pushed the COVID-19 conversation earlier than it happened, saying she would have called attention to the disease as a public health crisis before the first cases were confirmed in the U.S., pushing to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing capabilities sooner rather than later.
“We lost very essential weeks and months because this pandemic wasn’t paid as serious-enough attention as it should have early on,” Long said, adding that a delay led to hundreds of thousands more people contracting the disease.
“We did see it coming, and there really isn’t any excuse for not acting more swiftly,” Long said.
She said it is important to remember that slow call to action when politicians end up taking “victory laps” on how they responded as the pandemic winds down.
Long said that on the whole Congress representing both parties has done a “terrible” job at preparations for an outbreak such as COVID-19, stressing the importance of maintaining national stockpiles of medical resources as well as adequate funding for the next health crisis.
“Let’s really invest in preparedness so that when — not if — but when this happens again, we’re not scurrying around for equipment and asking (industries) to do things,” Long said. “I’m glad that they are (helping), we’re all doing our bit, but we shouldn’t have to. We should really rely on the federal government to make sure we’re prepared for the next pandemic.”
Regarding a return to normalcy by easing current restrictions on industry designed to prevent COVID-19’s spread, Long said it should be healthcare professionals calling the shots.
“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that science matters, and that it should lead our decisions as far as policy,” Long said.
She said that oftentimes thoughts of re-election might lead politicians to focus more on “what might sound good at the time” to get votes.
“Medical health professionals who are experts in the field I believe are best suited to give us the guidelines for when it’s time to get back to work,” Long said.
She expressed worry that reopening businesses too soon might undo all of the work already done should there be a resurgence in the disease’s spread.
On a question about government accountability, Long pointed to several hundred billion dollars in the CARES Act COVID-19 response funding package ostensibly for small businesses that went to large corporations first, pushing out the smaller establishments. She said a need for proper oversight is evident in that prioritization, adding that it is important for elected representatives to actively be calling out ethical concerns in governmental affairs.
“It is very important that we just don’t just sit by and allow it to go unnoticed,” Long said. “I’m never going to be somebody to shy away from calling people out, regardless of their political party, because I think that represents what’s of interest to the people of Southwest Washington.”
With a pandemic in the local and national spotlights, Long’s stance on health care came up in one of the questions where she reiterated her support of fixing the Affordable Care Act rather than implementing something like Medicare for all.
Long said she supports the creation of a government-run public option that she said would increase competition with private insurers and drive down costs. She isn’t in favor of doing away with private health insurance as a whole, however, saying that maintaining an element of choice is something people in the district and the nation as a whole support.
“My concern about a Medicare for all or a single-payer system is that choice no longer exists,” Long said, adding that in some cases current coverage through private insurers was hard-won, such as the coverage secured by labor unions.
Long, a political science professor at Washington State University Vancouver, noted with the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order she has been working from home and spending more attention on her neighbors than before the pandemic hit. In terms of how COVID-19 has changed society as a whole, she feels the pandemic has led citizens to “prioritize each other a little bit more.”
“One of the things that gives me hope is hearing the stories about how our community is coming together and how everybody is really doing their bit to help out people in need,” Long said. “It shows that we can really rise to the occasion and build that sense of community.”