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​BPC Experts on Coronavirus Questions, Next Steps

Washington, DC – In the wake of last night’s presidential address on the coronavirus response, many questions remain. This threat is a developing story with many angles, from public health and economic policy to immigration, higher education, and child care. BPC’s experts are weighing in this afternoon on some of the key issues.

Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor and former HHS deputy assistant secretary, on the European travel ban and public health:

“Microbes know no borders. Travel bans help at the outset of an outbreak when containment is still possible. Unfortunately, we’re past that point. We now have a global pandemic, with community spread already occurring within the United States. Most new cases here are not European travel-related. And exempting the United Kingdom makes little sense given the climbing case numbers there. Finally, ‘screened’ U.S. citizens are also exempt. There’s no perfect screen out there unless these folks voluntarily quarantine, as is being done with those returning from China and Iran. But if they fall ill after returning, they will have already exposed many others on their journey. This policy will likely have limited impact. What we need right now is to be laser-focused on social distancing and other community mitigation strategies such as canceling mass gatherings to protect Americans at high-risk and to reduce the surge on our health care system.”

Read 10 Things You Need to Know About the Coronavirus

Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy, on the European travel ban and broader migration policy:

“For the Trump administration, the focus has always been on fear of the threat that foreigners might bring to the United States. That’s the lens through which they attack all problems. Issuing the travel ban was the first thing Trump did when he took office, and it is their go-to strategy. But it is not sufficient, and it is not even the most important thing the government could be doing at this point. Just like the arrival of families and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, they are responding by trying to stop the problem at the border, without working to build out our systems and processes in the United States to manage things here. That is not a long-term solution and is at best a stop-gap measure. It is not a substitute. Especially when we are talking about a virus that doesn’t recognize any borders. In the future, we need to do what we can before a crisis hits to build surge and response capacity into all of our systems, health systems, immigration systems and border systems, so that we have a suite of tools to use in response to any situation. Much like we do in building resilience to respond to natural disasters, we need to have a similar ‘FEMA-like’ mentality when it comes to emergency planning and response at the border.”

Bill Hoagland, senior vice president and former Senate Budget Committee staff director, on the economic response:

“First and foremost, any temporary economic policy proposals to help control the spread of the coronavirus will benefit the economy in the long term, regardless of the immediate costs. Controlling the spread means economic support for those who either cannot or should not work while the coronavirus remains a threat. BPC has proposed that Congress could expand the definition of a natural disaster under the Stafford Act to include infectious disease. That would allow expanded disaster unemployment assistance to be triggered, supporting those who might otherwise go without a paycheck when their employer temporarily shuts down. Importantly, those workers would not need to be laid off to access this assistance. Congress and President Trump must find agreement—quickly—on an economic support package. Actions like social distancing may reduce economic activity in the short run but prove beneficial in helping us get past the pandemic and start the economic recovery sooner.”

Read BPC’s Proposal to Modify Unemployment Insurance

Jinann Bitar, senior higher education policy analyst, on college closures and tuition refunds:

“As more colleges and universities transition to online learning for extended periods, many students and parents are wondering whether they can expect refunds on tuition and other costs. At least with respect to tuition, that seems unlikely. Even if a school ‘closes’ in a physical sense that would not constitute an official school closure, which is the current regulatory trigger for federal loan discharge. In fact, the Department of Education is already easing distance learning regulations to make it easier for schools to move programs online temporarily. Overall, these are still actively enrolled students accessing courses and certificates that will be conferred by their schools. Of course, this could change if closures continue into the fall semester. Housing costs are likely a much murkier question.”

Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross border policy, on international students:

“As educational institutions are moving to online classes, the impact on international students has to be considered. Immigration regulations generally do not allow foreign students to pursue online-only learning. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the Student and Exchange Visitor Program has issued guidance to schools that they will be ‘flexible’ with such temporary arrangements, but there are other considerations. Foreign students may not easily be able to ‘go home’ if the campus is closed. Students who are engaged in full-time optional practical training whose workplaces close may face a problem of continuing employment that is the basis of their status. Institutions should be communicating with all of their international students on these matters, seeking guidance from ICE, and doing what they can to support their students in maintaining their status.”

Linda K. Smith, director of BPC’s Early Childhood Initiative and former HHS deputy assistant secretary for early childhood development, on the prospect of child care center closures:

“The next few weeks could prove pivotal for many child care providers. As the new coronavirus spreads further, closures of child care centers do seem likely at least in certain areas. Importantly, licensed child care centers already have stringent hygiene and sanitation policies in place so most are well-prepared on that front. But parents now facing the prospect of either moving to telework or being temporarily separated from their jobs may rightly be wondering whether they will have to continue paying to keep their slots if their child’s provider closes. In short: probably. Child care providers operate on the slimmest of margins, and early childhood educators already often receive wages that qualify them for food stamps. These centers simply cannot afford to go without tuition payments and still expect to keep all their teachers in place. In fact, some smaller providers could be vulnerable to closure if they were to stop charging.”

BPC’s experts are available for interviews.