Senator Reed was ahead of the curve on the coronavirus. He’s still waiting for answers

US Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island (right) at the Capitol.
US Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island (right) at the Capitol.Samuel Corum/Getty

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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and if you’re looking for a delicious sub for lunch, I highly recommend Mangiamo in North Providence. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

It has been nearly two months since US Senator Jack Reed and a group of his colleagues sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services asking smart questions about the coronavirus.


They wanted to know about the severity of the disease, and how Congress could help. They asked about testing capacity, and whether the virus could pose a threat to health care workers. They questioned the process for screening passengers on flights, and inquired about a vaccine.

At the time, there were five confirmed cases of the virus in the United States. As of this morning, there were more than 55,000 cases.

And Reed says he’s still waiting for answers from the Trump administration.

“I don’t think they took the problem serous enough, soon enough,” Reed said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “They didn’t cause the virus, but they were responsible for responding to it.”

Reed is a Democrat, but he’s hardly known for political mudslinging. He said it’s not uncommon for senators on both sides of the aisle to send letters to agencies with a list of questions. Even when the agencies don’t have an answer (or don’t want to answer), they usually send a reply, Reed said.

That’s not to say a group of senators could have prevented the outbreak that disrupted everyday life for all Americans. Some believe it may already have been too late by the time the letter was sent on Jan. 27. But it does show that Reed was ahead of the curve. He also tweeted his concerns about the virus on Jan. 30.


He said the agency’s failure to respond “suggested to me that they didn’t know what to say, that they are confused, and disorganized.”

A spokesman for the agency declined to comment on Tuesday.

There is some good news from Washington, D.C. It appears lawmakers reached a deal overnight on a $2 trillion stimulus package that will include direct payments to most Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, and loans for small businesses and large companies affected by the virus.

Reed was optimistic that an agreement was coming together on Tuesday, but he couldn’t help but think about what might have happened if the Trump administration stepped up earlier.

“One of the reasons we send letters is not just to get answers, but to get actions,” Reed said.


Rhode Map wants to hear from you. If you've got a scoop or a link to an interesting news story in Rhode Island, e-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

  • Passengers who flew into T.F. Green airport Tuesday were greeted by members of the National Guard who were there to remind them that they must self-quarantine for 14 days. Amanda Milkovits was there to capture the eerie scene.
  • Millions of people are doing everything possible to avoid the COVID-19 virus. But my colleague Jonathan Saltzman talked to the Boston University microbiologist who couldn’t wait to get his hands on it
  • Rhode Island now has 124 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and nearly 3,000 people in self-quarantine. As of Tuesday, there were 196 tests pending, and 1,143 negative tests in a state with just over a million people.
  • You might have noticed that local television news looks a lot different right now. That’s because everyone has been forced to change their habits as a result of the coronavirus – including local media outlets.
  • Public health experts say President Trump’s call to reopen the economy would put a premature end to the nationwide social isolation efforts underway to quell the spread of the coronavirus, and could cause the entire health care system — and in turn the economy — to collapse under the weight of a crush of critically ill people.


Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what's happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

Thanks for reading. Send comments and suggestions to dan.mcgowan@globe.com, or follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan. See you this afternoon.


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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.