Tipton: United effort targets COVID-19

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton

As part of the federal response to the coronavirus-19, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton is pushing legislation to improve data sharing between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Cortez Republican announced his Improving Emergency Disease Response Via Housing Act during a telephone town hall with Western Slope and other constituents Thursday night.

The bill would target outreach to elderly and homeless populations contracting the coronavirus-19, or COVID-19. Under it, the secretary of HUD would be required to share with the secretary of HHS information such as the location of projects for supportive housing for the elderly assisted by the Housing Act of 1959 and any information available concerning encampments of homeless people and other areas with high concentrations of homelessness.

Personally identifying information would be removed.

“Already, our country has massed an overwhelming united effort to be able to fight this outbreak and maintaining this unity will be critical in moving forward,” Tipton said, referring the pandemic declared over COVID-19.

He said the actions taken in the next few weeks will be pivotal in how quickly the nation recovers from the outbreak and he joined the chorus of voices calling on people to take precautions.

Jeff Kuhr, executive director of Mesa County Public Health, was part of the town hall and said it is critical to “flatten the curve” of disease spread, so that health care infrastructure is not overwhelmed with too many cases at one time.

More than 165 samples had been taken in Mesa County as of Thursday, at which time, only 60 tests had been completed, and Kuhr said he anticipates a “rush” of positives at some point, which would put the statewide health system at risk.

Local efforts are focused on preventing the need for medical intervention in the first place, by directing attention to those 65 or older, and the immunocompromised, Kuhr said.

“My hopes are high. We’re ahead of it, but who knows what’s to come,” he said.

Statewide, the work is on slowing COVID-19 transmission, said Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Our systems are potentially going to be overrun if we can’t slow the spread of the virus. We have a limited number of hospital and ICU beds across the state. Rather than have a surge over a short period of time, we need to try to spread this out over a number of months,” France said.

Montrose Memorial Hospital’s chief medical officer on Friday detailed preparations being undertaken here to reduce any surge. These include lining up ventilators and continued communication with other facilities, as well as canceling non-urgent elective surgeries in order to reserve equipment for those with the most need.

France on Thursday said another focus for the CDPHE is protecting the most vulnerable; those with chronic health conditions such as lung, kidney and heart disease, or diabetes, are at greater risk for COVID-19 than the general population, and so are the elderly.

The state is assessing policies that will help and working with places where the virus can do great damage, such as long-term care facilities and dialysis centers, he said.

France also stressed social distancing, good hygiene and self-isolation, as well as a growing list of state-ordered policies, such as limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people.

“The more we can do to social distance now, the more we are doing to protect our health care workers,” he said.

The state could see cases ramping up later in spring, but the hope is that making hard decisions now would actually slow down transmission rates.

“Recognize that what we’re doing now in this distancing work is actually impacting the transmission today,” France said.

“So while over the next weeks we may hear more about high rates of hospitalization and deaths, know that underneath it all, the spread of this virus is declining and slowing because of the good work each individual is doing with precautions that we’re taking and the steps were taking to protect our families and communities through these efforts.”

Tipton followed up his town hall with letters Friday to U.S. House leadership detailing the needs for the 3rd District.

He is requesting that the upcoming legislative session devote time to rural health care, including telehealth eligibility for federally qualified rural health centers; economic relief for small businesses; continuity of mental health care for higher education students and a universal charitable giving tax deduction.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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