Last Thursday, April 16, the Malibu Democratic Club hosted its first virtual meeting, with Congressman Ted Lieu, State Senator Ben Allen, Malibu Mayor Karen Farrer, Mayor Pro Tem Mikke Pierson, Mark Gonzalez, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, and the presidents of four neighboring cemocratic Clubs (Pacific Palisades, West LA, Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains and Oxnard). More than 50 Malibu residents attended.
Mayor Karen Farrer opened the event. She reported that the diagnostic testing that was provided by the City of Malibu, in coordination with Malibu resident Sean Penn’s foundation Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), was open to all Malibu residents, not just those showing symptoms. More than 2,000 Malibu residents took advantage of free testing to determine whether or not they tested positive for COVID-19.
The conversations with Lieu and Allen focused primarily on two issues: How the U.S. and California can reopen and the impact of the pandemic on the 2020 elections.
Lieu indicated that the most important immediate step needed to reopen the economy is to dramatically ramp up nationwide testing, so that we have solid data on where the virus is and isn’t. The U.S. has the highest number of known infections in the world, but is second to last in the world on testing per capita. We’ve tested 3.3 million people, “a ridiculously low number for our population of 330 million,” Lieu said. With adequate testing, areas with high concentrations of the virus would remain locked down, but others could begin opening. You can also focus on contact tracing, isolation and containment. Lieu indicated congress has provided extensive funds for testing. The problem has been the Trump administration’s failure to execute. Lieu and others continue to press the administration to scale up nationwide testing as quickly as possible. At this point, Lieu supports universal testing, not just testing those with symptoms.
The other important elements for returning to normal are an effective treatment and, ultimately, developing a vaccine. Congress has provided extensive funding for those objectives and work is underway on both.
When asked the timeframe of Governor Gavin Newsom reopening California, Allen indicated that after May 15, we would likely see gradual reopening, like “upping the dimmer switch.” The LA County health director is hosting meetings with various sectors of the economy and epidemiologists to determine how each sector can open without contributing to a resurgence of the virus. Things that involve intense social gathering, like sports games and concerts, are less likely to open up quickly, but you might start to see televised games without audiences. Over time life will return to normal.
Lieu indicated, “This is a virus no one wants to get.” Until we get a cure, people will continue to protect themselves and their families, and that is a good thing. So, regardless of what government says, it will be a while before a lot of people are likely to go to crowded places, which will continue to slow down the economy. Accordingly, he thinks we need a second stimulus package. In addition, Lieu believes that “government is going to be one of the few institutions standing in a few months that can provide provide resources and sustenance to millions of Americans.” Accordingly, Lieu has co-authored a bill that would provide $ 2,000 per month per adult until there is a vaccine or cure.
Lieu said Congress is scheduled to reconvene on May 4, but it could be later. In the meantime, his offices in Washington DC and Los Angeles are open. Congress continues to work on legislation and constituent services remotely.
On the political front, Lieu noted that the pandemic has dramatically altered the landscape of the 2020 elections, both in terms of the prevalent issues and how people can vote safely. Lieu believes that the top issue for all races in November will be healthcare and how Trump handled the pandemic. The No. 2 issue will be the economy and how we can pull ourselves out of this. Polling has showed that voters trust the Democrats more than Republicans on healthcare. Trump’s temporary bump in approval ratings has now disappeared. The U.S. will have over a million COVID-19 cases by early May, and thousands will continue to die.
A participant asked how Democratic candidate and former vice president Joe Biden can bring the party together, especially young supporters of candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who recently dropped out of the race. Allen indicated that much of it has to do with Biden learning the lessons of why Bernie resonates with so many young people, notably Sanders’ proactive stances on climate change, healthcare and other progressive issues. Biden and Bernie have set up a taskforce to work on these issues. Allen indicated it’s a process and will take some time, but was optimistic it will happen.
The final question of the evening was about what would happen if an earthquake or wildfire were to occur while the quarantine was in place. Farrer indicated that Malibu would gather every resource the city has, but they would need state and federal disaster relief. Allen indicated that CalFire and the CA Governor’s Office of Emergency Management are acutely aware of this problem and are trying to assure we are ready. But it’s a challenge that deeply concerns all of us.
The Malibu Democratic Club will be doing more virtual events in the future. To get notice of future events, visit www.MalibuDemocraticClub.org, or request the Club’s e-newsletter at Info@MalibuDemocraticClub.org.