A tele-town hall hosted by U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, a potential vaccine and another stimulus package.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., held a tele-town hall this week briefing constituents on COVID-19 and efforts to pass another pandemic stimulus program.

The Van Hollen event also featured Dr. Harolyn Belcher, who is vice president and chief diversity officer at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. Belcher is also a professor of pediatrics and at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Belcher and Van Hollen were asked about development of COVID-19 vaccine and how those doses might be distributed.

Belcher cited a National Academy of Sciences report that if there are 10 million initial doses of the vaccine they should first go to seniors, as well as those with preexisting medical conditions and health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Belcher said COVID-19 tends to not impact younger people and children as severely as older patients. But she said the pandemic is still impacting kids. "Their families are stressed" said Belcher referring to health, mental health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

She also said virtual classes and online learning challenge some kids. “They may not fully benefit from virtual education services,” Belcher said.

Some school districts on the Shore have brought or will start to bring back special education students who might do better with in-class instruction as well as homeless or other students who lack internet access.

Belcher also said she worries about children not going to the doctor for immunizations or other checkups because of the pandemic.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices across the state and country have seen times when patients have avoided coming in for other health problems because of fear of the coronavirus.

Belcher also said inequities in the U.S. health care system have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Maryland, African Americans make up 41 percent of the COVID deaths statewide. African Americans make up 31 percent of Maryland’s population.

Hispanics make up 10.6 percent of Maryland’s population but account for 22 percent of its COVID-19 cases, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

Van Hollen said improving internet access and connectivity in underserved communities is essential. He compared having internet access to the need for electricity in the early part of the 20th century.

Van Hollen also pointed to a $20 billion rural broadband program launched by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year. The program could help rural area and small towns including on the Eastern Shore where connectivity and the digital divide have been problems.

Van Hollen also criticized President Donald Trump’s move to temporarily cut payroll taxes aimed at helping workers during the pandemic and stressed the need for Congress to pass another COVID stimulus bill.

Trump contends the tax cuts will help workers.

Van Hollen said as it stands now workers and employers would still have to pay payroll taxes not paid during the Trump tax holiday.

“Nobody should be under the illusion they are getting a bonus here,” Van Hollen said.

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