Joe Kennedy calls for a national shelter-in-place order

"We are past the point of half-measures or patchwork response efforts."

Springfield, MA - 9/14/2019 - Rep. Joe Kennedy III speaks during a panel discussion after the 2019 Massachusetts Democratic Party convention at MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. on Saturday, Sept. 14. (Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe) Topic: 15dems
Rep. Joe Kennedy III speaks during a panel discussion after the Massachusetts Democratic Party convention last September at MassMutual Center in Springfield. –Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Many officials have increasingly shied away from the phrase “shelter in place” to describe the sweeping new orders in many states and cities for people to stay at home as much as possible to blunt the spread of the coronavirus.

Rep. Joe Kennedy III is not one of them.

The Massachusetts congressman called on President Donald Trump to enact a nationwide “shelter-in-place order” Thursday, joining health experts who say more aggressive social distancing rules are needed.

“We are past the point of half-measures or patchwork response efforts,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Public health and medical experts across the country agree: A temporary, clear nationwide shelter-in-place order is an essential step in ensuring that the apex of this crisis lasts weeks — instead of months, or even years.”

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The Newton Democrat noted that such an order would include exceptions for essential workers and services, including (but hardly limited to) food and medical care.

More than 20 states and dozens of cities have already issued “stay-at-home” orders or advisories, which urge people against leaving their homes for unnecessary reasons. For example, Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts has ordered nonessential businesses to close or let employees work remotely, as well as banned organized gatherings of more than 10 people. However, the state has not imposed any restrictions on travel, and Gov. Charlie Baker has emphasized that the request for residents to stay at home is not an order.

Kennedy believes such efforts aren’t good enough and that only a nationwide order for people will be effective.

“A shelter-in-place of this magnitude will be difficult and painful,” he said. “Travel restrictions, quarantines, and self-isolation are not easy things to ask of our people. They come with profound, short-term economic pain. But that pales in comparison to the pain this country will feel for months — if not years — if we do not stem the tide of this virus.”

Kennedy’s office said that such an order must be paired with increased funding for the testing and tracking of the virus, as well as more robust, universal economic stimulus. Last week, he proposed direct payments of at least $4,000 for Americans earning less than $100,000 to offset the effects of the abrupt drop in economic activity; an unprecedented 3.3 million people filed for unemployment over the last week in the midst of the pandemic’s spread. The House is expected to approve a $2 trillion relief bill this week, which includes a $1,200 direct payment for most adults, as well as expanded unemployment insurance and aid to hard-hit businesses.

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The Trump administration has also advised people to avoid discretionary travel and limit gatherings to 10 people, but is not enforcing any such restrictions at the national level. And the call by Kennedy for a national shelter-in-place comes as Trump himself has appeared increasingly eager to end social distancing guidelines and “have the country opened up” by Easter, arguing that the economic effects of stringent social distancing could be worse than the pandemic.

In a letter Thursday to the country’s governors, Trump said he was preparing new social distancing guidelines with varying restrictions based on the prevalence of the coronavirus in certain areas — even as his own health advisers warn against loosening the restrictions before the infectious disease is fully contained.

According to Kennedy, a nationwide shelter-in-place order could help that happen sooner rather than later.

“The science is clear: this is how we get through this crisis,” he said Thursday. “It’s scary and difficult, but it is possible. If we are willing to make this collective sacrifice, we will weather this collective storm. We will get to the other side. And there is great hope and comfort in that.”


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