Below is a rushed transcript of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ address on the health and economic crisis caused by coronavirus. The full speech can be seen here.
Good afternoon, everybody. In the last few days, we have seen the crisis of the coronavirus continue to grow exponentially.
Let me be absolutely clear: in terms of potential deaths and the impact on our economy, the crisis we face from coronavirus is on the scale of a major war, and we must act accordingly.
Nobody knows how many fatalities we may see, but they could equal or surpass the U.S. casualties we saw in World War II.
It is an absolute moral imperative that our response — as a government, as a society, as business communities, and as individuals — meets the enormity of this crisis.
As people work from home and are directed to self-quarantine, it will be easy to feel like we are in this alone, or that we must only worry about ourselves and let everyone else fend for themselves.
That is a very dangerous mistake. First and foremost, we must remember that we are in this together.
Now is the time for solidarity. We must fight with love and compassion for those most vulnerable to the effects of this pandemic.
If our neighbor or co-worker gets sick, we have the potential to get sick. If our neighbors lose their jobs, then our local economies suffer, and we may lose our jobs. If doctors and nurses do not have the equipment and staffing capacity they need now, people we know and love may die.
Unfortunately, in this time of international crisis, the current administration is largely incompetent, and its incompetence and recklessness has threatened the lives of many people.
So today I’d like to give an overview of what we must do as a nation.
First – we are dealing with a national emergency and the president should declare one now.
Next, because President Trump is unable and unwilling to lead selflessly, we must immediately convene an emergency, bipartisan authority of experts to support and direct a response that is comprehensive, compassionate, and based first and foremost on science and fact.
We must aggressively make certain that the public and private sectors are cooperating with each other. And we need national and state hotlines staffed with well-trained people who have the best information available.
Among many questions, people need to know: what are the symptoms of coronavirus? When should I seek medical treatment? Where do I go for a test?
The American people deserve transparency, something the Trump administration has fought day after day to stifle. We need daily information — clear, science-based information — from credible scientific voices, not politicians.
And during this crisis, we must make sure we care for the communities most vulnerable to the health and economic pain that’s coming — those in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, those confined in immigration detention centers, those who are currently incarcerated, and all people regardless of immigration status.
Unfortunately, the United States is at a severe disadvantage, because, unlike every other major country on earth, we do not guarantee health care as a human right. The result is that millions of people in this country cannot afford to go to a doctor, let alone pay for a coronavirus test.
So while we work to pass a Medicare for All single-payer system, the United States government must be clear that in the midst of this emergency, that everyone in our country — regardless of income or where they live — must be able to get all of the health care they need without cost.
Obviously, when a vaccine or other effective treatment is developed, it must be free of charge.
We cannot live in a nation where if you have the money you get the treatment you need to survive, but if you’re working class or poor you get to the end of the line. That would be morally unacceptable.
Further, we need emergency funding right now for paid family and medical leave. Anyone who is sick should be able to stay home during this emergency, and receive their paycheck.
What we do not want to see is at a time when half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, when they need to go to work in order to take care of their family, we do not want to see people going to work who are sick and can spread the coronavirus.
We also need an immediate expansion of community health centers in this country so that every American will have access to a nearby healthcare facility.
Where do I go? How do I get a test? How do I get the results of that test? We need greatly to expand our primary health care capabilities in this country and that includes expanding community health care centers.
We need to determine the status of our testing and processing for the coronavirus. The government must respond aggressively to make certain that we in fact do have the latest and most effective test available, and the quickest means of processing those tests.
There are other countries around the world who are doing better than we are in that regard. We should be learning from them.
No one disputes that there is a major shortage of ICU units, and ventilators that are needed to respond to this crisis. The federal government must work aggressively with the private sector to make sure that this equipment is available to hospitals and the rest of the medical community.
Our current healthcare system does not have the doctors and nurses we currently need. We are understaffed. During this crisis, we need to mobilize medical residents, retired medical professionals, and other medical personnel to help us deal with this crisis.
We need to make sure that doctors, nurses and medical professionals have the instructions and personal protective equipment that they need.
This is not only because we care about the well-being of medical professionals — but also because if they go down, our capability to respond to this crisis is significantly diminished.
The pharmaceutical industry must be told in no uncertain terms that the medicines that they manufacture for this crisis will be sold at cost. This is not the time for profiteering or price gouging.
The coronavirus is already causing a global economic meltdown, which is impacting people throughout the world and in our own country, and it is especially dangerous for low income and working families the most. People who today, before the crisis, were struggling economically.
Instead of providing more tax breaks to the top one percent and large corporations, we need to provide economic assistance to the elderly – and I worry very much about elderly people in this country today, many of whom are isolated and many of whom do not have a lot of money.
We need to worry about those who are already sick. We need to worry about working families with children, people with disabilities, the homeless and all those who are vulnerable.
We need to provide in that context emergency unemployment assistance to anyone who loses their job through no fault of their own.
Right now, 23 percent of those who are eligible to receive unemployment compensation do not receive it.
Under our proposal, everyone who loses a job must qualify for unemployment compensation at least 100 percent of their prior salary with a cap of $1,150 a week or $60,000 a year.
In addition, those who depend on tips – and the restaurant industry is suffering very much from the meltdown – gig workers, domestic workers, and independent contractors shall also qualify for unemployment insurance to make up for the income that they lose during this crisis.
We need to make sure that the elderly, people with disabilities and families with children have access to nutritious food. That means expanding the Meals on Wheel program, the school lunch program and SNAP so that no one goes hungry during this crisis and everyone who cannot leave their home can receive nutritious meals delivered directly to where they live.
We need also in this economic crisis to place an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and on utility shut-offs so that no one loses their home during this crisis and that everyone has access to clean water, electricity, heat and air conditioning.
We need to construct emergency homeless shelters to make sure that the homeless, survivors of domestic violence and college students quarantined off campus are able to receive the shelter, the healthcare and the nutrition they need.
We need to provide emergency lending to small and medium sized businesses to cover payroll, new construction of manufacturing facilities, and production of emergency supplies such as masks and ventilators.
Here is the bottom line. When we are dealing with this crisis, we need to listen to the scientists, to the researchers, to the medical folks, not politicians.
We need an emergency response to this crisis and we need it now.
We need more doctors and nurses in underserved areas.
We need to make sure that workers who lose their jobs in this crisis receive the unemployment assistance they need.
And in this moment, we need to make sure that in the future after this crisis is behind us, we build a health care system that makes sure that every person in this country is guaranteed the health care that they need.