Portman discusses losing two friends to COVID-19 outbreak

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FILE – In this Tuesday, June 20, 2017 file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, pauses for a reporter’s question as he arrives at a closed-door GOP strategy session on the Republican health care overhaul with Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others, at the Capitol in Washington. Days after it’s […]

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – During an interview with WDTN.com on Tuesday, US Senator Rob Portman said his immediate concern amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Ohio is getting more people tested. This comes as Portman deals with the loss of another friend from the outbreak.

“Only have 0.6 percent of Ohioans have been tested from the number I got today (from the Ohio Department of Health),” Portman said. “Right now in most parts of Ohio, unless you are pretty sick you can’t get a test unless you are a frontline worker or very sick.”

Ohio has over 260 deaths from COVID-19 – two of whom were friends of Portman. His former district representative, Wes Fahrbach, died from the virus on April 10. Fahrbach had also been a district representative for former Senator George Voinovich. The first death in the state from the virus was Mick Wagoner, an attorney from Lucas County who was friend with Portman, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. Wagoner’s son Mark was a former member of the statehouse and Ohio Senate.

“I haven’t been able to talk anybody up there yet,” Portman said. “I was really proud to have (Fahrbach) representing me there. That’s two people from the Toledo area that I know. We haven’t had as many deaths as other states, but I’ve known two of them and it’s hit close. Every day I just try to figure out how I can help.”

Portman said funds from the recently passed Cornavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act are beginning to roll out, the funds will be put toward getting money to the Centers for Disease Control and local health boards to begin getting more testing done of the broader population. The bill also has funding for a potential vaccine down the road.

Portman said stimulus checks should reach half of eligible Ohioans this week with the rest arriving next week. The CARES act also expands unemployment insurance to self-employed people and includes paycheck protection and small business loans to help keep people employed while many are shut down during the outbreak.

The major factor for Portman remains testing, which he sees as key in controlling the outbreak and getting the economy started.

“This is how other countries have stopped the spread of the virus,” Portman said. “It also gives us something as Americans to measure to see we’re making progress or not. If the number of new cases goes down for a few weeks, it means we’re probably getting over the hump, then you got to ask how we can get back to work. If we can get those numbers reported “

Portman said he saw the economy re-opening in stages, with elective surgeries at hospitals and non-profits possibly re-opening first. Later would be restaurants, bars and movie theaters, places where social distancing isn’t as easy.

“It has to be based on science and and what they are telling the state of Ohio,” Portman said. “I’m hoping in the next couple months we can start to phase back into normal life. I’m hoping by the end of the summer we are back in a situation where it’s pretty normal and kids are back to school and the economy is going again.”

Other notes:

  • Portman said the Federal Drug Administration has given approval to a new ventilator developed by several local Cleveland companies, in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic and Akron Children’s Hospital. He said the ventilator was a new design that was impressed people in the health field.
    “They came up with a design that was really liked by the healthcare people,” Portman said. “They’re going to be building these and sending them around the country. It’s cool because Ohioans, we make a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of things we can do here.”
  • Battel will be able to recycle up to 4.5 million masks a day shortly. Most of the masks will be coming to their Ohio facilities to be sanitized and sent back to healthcare workers.
  • As part of The CARES Act, 2.2 million protective gowns for healthcare workers are being sent to workers across the country through Cardinal Health.
  • Portman said he hopes the economy will rebound faster than many have projected. Through February, Portman said wages had increased 3 percent or more for 19 months and unemployment was at a 50-year low. He thinks driving the number of cases down through testing and care will allow people to make the decision on going out: “

You can read the legislation for The CARES Act at Congress.gov.

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