CORONAVIRUS

Sen. Joni Ernst confident of public health 'playbook' for protecting against coronavirus

Sen. Joni Ernst meets with community leaders at Coralville City Hall on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Sen. Joni Ernst meets with community leaders at Coralville City Hall on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CORALVILLE — The United States could see larger numbers of coronavirus cases, but U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is confident the nation’s public health agencies are ready and capable of meeting the threat.

“In any pandemic or epidemic or any threat that exists out there, we always have pre-prepared plans for that,” she said Friday afternoon. “It’s not like we don’t have a playbook. It doesn’t matter what administration, Republican or Democrat, those playbooks are always in place.

“If we would start seeing larger numbers of the coronavirus and cases here in the United States, then that playbook is exercised,” Ernst said.

Ernst, who was in Coralville to meet with city and business officials, said concern about the coronavirus “is sucking some of the oxygen up” in Washington, but she’s encouraged by the response from the health agencies, which, she noted, have seen funding increases in recent years.

“So while there’s a lot of fear and anxiety out there, we as the United States government are coming down on this quite well,” Ernst said.

She noted that despite criticism from President Donald Trump, “we as Congress actually increased Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health funding over the past number of years.”

She supports the travel restrictions the Trump administration has put in place, as well as the work of researchers working with their counterparts in China to better understand the coronavirus.

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“We just need to better understand the virus, and I think we’re doing the right thing by working with Chinese researchers to figure this out,” Ernst said.

At City Hall, Coralville officials lobbied Ernst for federal assistance on rebuilding the Interstate 80-First Avenue interchange. The Iowa Department of Transportation has approved up to $20 million for the $38.5 million project. The city has twice applied for funding through the Opportunity Zones economic development program, but has not been among the roughly 10 percent of projects approved.

The feedback is that city’s information and data are good, but it needs help from the congressional delegation, City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said.

“If there are ways that we can just push for additional dollars from the federal government, we certainly want to do so,” Ernst said.

The fact that the interchange is in an Opportunity Zone area helps, she said. The federal government created Opportunity Zones in 2017 to provide capital gains tax incentives for certain investments in lower- income areas. Trump has touted the program, including a shoutout in his State of the Union speech last month.

“So that provides additional opportunity for us to go visit with the administration and say, by providing dollars for this interchange, it will provide a little bit of extra push for investors to come in and spend some dollars,” Ernst said.

“So I think we have a number of different great talking points for this interchange, and hopefully we can see some progress.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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