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Washington state's only doctor in Congress talks coronavirus, policy

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There are 17 doctors in Congress — 14 in the House, and three in the Senate. U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, is one of them, and the only representing Washington state. Her 8th Congressional District includes a lot of King, Pierce, Kittitas and Chelan counties, as well as a small portion of Douglas County.

Schrier tells KNKX the doctors elected to Congress are talking to each other, but deferring to the scientific members of the administration, such as experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.

But she says the coronavirus outbreak does seem to have broken down some partisan walls, at least temporarily.

“The fact that we were able to push through an $8.3 billion package to get supplies and funding to local health departments shows how well we can work together on issues like this,” she said. “(The outbreak) will probably not be enough, but I’m considering that first package a down payment.”

Schrier says the next funding package will need to address the economic circumstances families and individuals are facing, including not being able to work because of a quarantine, or being laid off because business has decreased.

“We are always aware, as physicians, that bacteria and viruses … have been around a whole lot longer than humans have. This sounds spooky to say but they’ve figured out how to adapt and mutate and will outsmart us,” Schrier said. “We always have to be on guard for the next epidemic or pandemic. We can’t just go from emergency to emergency.”

She says the U.S. needs to have steady funding for “global surveillance,” the practice of keeping abreast of health concerns around the world that might travel to the United States. And domestically, Schrier wants the country to build up its stockpile of emergency supplies.

“We already are struggling to find enough N-95 masks locally,” she said. “Depending on a foreign country – China – for all our medical supplies, can be perilous. We have to worry about all kinds of shortages when we depend on one country for so much of what we need.”

Listen to her conversation with KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco, in the audio player at the top of this post.

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Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.