U.S. Rep. Susan Wild at Lehigh Valley chamber meeting

"Stay home" is U.S. Rep. Susan Wild's advice to constituents.

Wild (PA-07) held a 65-minute town hall meeting via telephone Monday to address the coronavirus pandemic that is shutting down much of the Pennsylvania economy.

"If you are able, stay home," the Allentown Democrat said.

She was accompanied by state Rep. Peter Schweyer and Dr. Peter Ender, an infectious disease specialist with St. Luke's University Health Network.

Schweyer noted that as of Tuesday, mostly just grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies will remain open, costing many people their livelihood.

"As people lose their jobs, they lose their health insurance," he said.

He urged eligible workers to seek unemployment assistance and other state help online. That can take two to four weeks under normal circumstances, not taking into account the huge spike in requests expected now.

"It's not a time to panic," Dr. Ender said. "We have a lot of good people, a lot of really smart people trying to figure this out."

While just a couple cases of coronavirus have been reported so far in the Lehigh Valley, Ender said more are inevitable.

He reiterated the steps that anybody can do to try to avoid contracting and spreading the virus: "social distancing," hand-washing, coughing into one's elbow, and frequent cleaning of surfaces, such as door knobs, that are touched often.

Beware of large groups, and while children may not often become sick, they can spread the illness.

"Simple hygiene practices can go a very long way," he said. "Be a little bit more meticulous about those things."

The hope is to "flatten out and control" the infection curve, as China and South Korea have done, Dr. Ender said. A steep curve, with many people becoming ill at the same time, could strain the U.S. healthcare system.

He said predicting how quickly the virus spreads is impossible right now. As testing becomes more available, more infections will be identified.

One caller said that despite the governor strongly urging non-essential businesses to close for two weeks, her husband is expected to show up at his "non-essential" workplace.

Schweyer, also a Democrat, said businesses may need a couple days to respond.

"The governor is not sending the National Guard out, but businesses could face enforcement" if they disregard the order to close. He said the state would prefer not to have to compel closings.

Wild said she's focused on the long-term effects on businesses, particularly in services, and on "gig" workers who might not be able to make up lost income.

"This is a very distressing and confusing time for all of us," she said.

The federal government has made billions available for aid, she said.

Wild said grocery chains will have sufficient supplies of food and she asked people not to hoard supplies. Postal service is expected to continue.

Dr. Ender said that after the two-week shutdown, the situation will be reassessed. He said the virus affects different people in different ways, but a typical progression of symptoms is a dry cough, then fever and shortness of breath.

"This is a critical time for our country and the world," Wild said. "This is not a time to be critical or political."

Wild said she will be focusing on the needs of senior citizens, who are most at risk, and on the economy.

"I look forward to working with all of our local businesses and Chamber of Commerce," she said, to keep the ever-changing situation under control. "We really do not want to perpetuate panic."

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