WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says proper metrics will be needed to show when it’s safe to release the country from health emergency restrictions.
Portman Tuesday told Ohio reporters he agrees with President Donald Trump that it’s important to get the country’s economy moving as soon as possible, but he also wants it done in a safe manner.
“Families aren’t going to send their kids to school if they don’t know it’s safe, businesses aren’t going to open their doors and customers won’t want to come in if they don’t know it’s safe,” Portman said.
“We need the right metric to show that, and I believe (reports of) new cases would be the best metric,” he added.
He said that will require more test to be conducted, as well as the results being received sooner. Currently, it can take 4-5 days at times to receive results, but Portman said he has heard of possible developments cutting that time down to several hours.
Portman also said a laboratory recently announced it expects to be able to greatly increase the amount of testing that can be done.
He said being able to show new cases are falling during a particular time period will reinforce safety for the public.
“Then we’ll know when it’s safe and we’re able to reopen the economy,” Portman said. “I’m optimistic that if we will be able to do that, we’ll get out of this before summer.”
When asked if he thought Easter would be a realistic timeline, which has been suggested by Trump, Portman said he hoped so.
“But we need that data that supports a comfort level,” he added.
He knows that will be a challenge, especially in Ohio, where currently testing is being reserved for those showing symptoms of COVID-19. He said testing needs to be available for those who are asymptomatic, as well.
“That’s how South Korea got a handle on it,” Portman said. “They had drive-through testing that was free.”
He also urged his Democratic colleagues to pass the $2 trillion relief bill that has been worked on over the past several days. He admitted the bill is not perfect, but said it was negotiated on a bipartisan basis, of which he was a part, and that it was Democratic leadership that tacked on other requests from the floor.
He also said it likely wouldn’t be the last relief bill from Congress.
“Everybody is going to have a different view on it, it’s not perfect, but let’s get it passed,” Portman said. “Families are worried and our health care system is under incredible stress.
“This is not going to be the final bill,” he added.
He also said he is fine with the provisions in the bill for transparency and accountability as it relates to large businesses receiving funds. That has been a sticking point of Democrats, who say there will be no accountability on who gets those funds and for what they are used.
“I don’t think there should be a period of time where people don’t know who is getting the money,” Portman said. The current proposal would have that information withheld for six months.
He added this time period was used in the last relief bill during the recession because there was a stigma attached to companies that filed for the funding.
“I don’t want grants, I think they should be loans, and that’s what these are,” Portman said.
He also said he is hopeful not all of the funding will be used if the situation corrects itself quickly. He also pointed out when it was done in 2008, the majority of the loans were paid back with interest.
“You could say the taxpayer made money off that, but that’s okay, because the taxpayer took a great risk,” Portman said.
Other provisions in the latest relief effort include direct checks to residents, increasing unemployment insurance rates, improvements to the healthcare industry and loans to small businesses that if used for payroll would be forgiven, essentially becoming grants.