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Photo by Tom Marshall
WEAR A MASK—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., encouraged the public to wear a face mask around others when he addressed a gathering July 8 at Sterling Health Care on West Main Street. McConnell stressed that wearing a mask shouldn’t be a political issue, but rather is about protecting others. The event was attended by area media and a variety of local and state officials.

McConnell addresses pandemic during local visit
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., used his visit to Mt. Sterling last week to praise Sterling Health Care for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and address the need to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
Speaking from the Sterling Health Care Office on West Main Street July 8, McConnell stressed to the small gathering of local officials and an assortment of media the importance of wearing masks in the current environment.
And he insisted that the wearing of masks should not be politicized.
“I think that’s absurd,” McConnell said. “There’s no Republican or Democratic approach to wearing a mask. The coronavirus is not involved in American politics. I think the thing to do is to follow the best advice we’re given. ... It’s not a political issue for me and shouldn’t be for anyone else.”
The senator said it’s everyone’s responsibility to try and stop the spread of the virus.
“Every citizen in the United States ought to view it as their responsibility to wear a mask until we get a vaccine. It’s not that hard, everyone can do it,” McConnell said to a round of applause.
McConnell said school districts will have the support of Congress in providing the funds needed to get public schools back open this fall.
Despite some comments by the president last week, McConnell insists that guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be followed if schools are to reopen safely.
“We’ve got to follow CDC guidelines, but it will be challenging for the schools,” the senator said. “Put yourself in the place of the principal—you’re going to want your kids wearing masks, you’re going to want social distancing, you’ve got busing issues—all of this has a cost factor.”
President Trump tweeted last week that he may withhold federal funding from schools that do not resume in person classes this fall, according to media reports.
Moments later, Trump reportedly said that the CDC’s guidelines for safely reopening schools are too expensive and too impractical, media reported.
The CDC’s guidance, according to media reports, includes keeping desks six feet apart, staggering arrival and dismissal times and canceling field trips and other large gatherings in communities where there is “minimal to moderate” spread of the virus.
The day after the president’s comments, CDC Director Robert Redfield told the national media that the agency will not revise its guidance on reopening schools.
McConnell said Congress will have to come up with additional money to get the nation’s schools back open.
“That’s what it comes down to, for us is to try to underwrite reopening the schools safely because it will require operating differently. ... We’re going to try to figure out a way to fund the additional cost of reopening the schools safely.”
McConnell said it’s imperative to get schools reopened as the nation tries to return to some sort of normalcy.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make that more possible,” he said. “If children are still home in the fall this will not feel like a normal situation at all.”
McConnell also used the opportunity to commend health care providers like Sterling Health Care for taking advantage of relief packages through the CARES (Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act to help the community address COVID-19
Dr. Richard Hall, Sterling Health’s chief medical officer, noted that with some of the relief funds the clinic was able to collaborate with the Montgomery County Health Dept. and Saint Joseph Mount Sterling Hospital to offer drive-through testing within a couple of weeks of the initial outbreak this past March.
When the outbreak first struck, the dramatic drop in business forced the clinic to lay off about a third of its staff, interim CEO Tina Bryant recalled.
The CARES Act, however, allowed the clinic to eventually bring back all of its staff with particular help from its Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Provider Fund, Bryant said.
It also allowed the clinic to buy personal protective equipment needed to deal with the pandemic, she said.
Sterling Health Care provides primary care, women’s health, fitness and wellness, substance abuse, mental health, pharmacy and dental services at multiple locations in Mt. Sterling. It also has offices in other counties.
The clinic opened locally in 2012 with three providers, but has since grown to include 30 providers in various fields, Hall said.
McConnell said he anticipates discussion of another stimulus package to begin soon in the Senate.
The senator said he expects the package will include help for health care providers, education and additional money for state unemployment insurance.
He said, however, that he wants to avoid a situation like that which occurred recently where some unemployment recipients were making more money staying home than actually working.
McConnell said he would like to see at least some of the money allocated for health care go to the treatment of substance abuse.
He said the problem with substance abuse has only grown during the pandemic, as has spousal abuse and suicide.
In conjunction with the rescue package, McConnell also proposes addressing the growing litigation resulting from the pandemic against universities, hospitals, doctors, nurses and businesses, among others.
“We are confronted potentially with an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the health care pandemic,” he said.
McConnell said it’s unclear if the number of cases is leveling off in Kentucky or is about to surge, but regardless, the state and the nation, has to come to terms with the rough road that lies ahead.
“We can’t shut down the economy again,” he said. “We simply cannot do that. There’s not enough money that we can borrow to prop the economy up again like we have already. We have to work our way though this until we can get a vaccine.”
McConnell likened the global effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine to a modern day Manhattan Project.
The nation’s scientific community was united during World War II to develop a nuclear weapon as part of a secret campaign called the Manhattan Project.
Among the local officials to attend the event were state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, Mt. Sterling Mayor Al Botts, City Council member Debbie Helton, Judge-Executive Wally Johnson, Mt. Sterling-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce/Industrial Authority Executive Director Sandy Romenesko, Mt. Sterling Police Chief Terry Landrum, Montgomery County Sheriff David Charles and sheriff’s Lt. Tommy Parker.
McConnell’s motorcade encountered a small group of protestors leaving the event.
One woman, Cay Lane, held a sign in support of Black Lives Matter.
“We don’t need to forget that,” Cay Lane told the Advocate afterward. “It’s not something that can be covered up with other things that are in the news.”
Another woman, Becky Priest, held a sign that read, “Ditch Moscow Mitch.”
“I am so upset with the way things are going,” Priest told the Advocate. “He’s such a Trump fan and I don’t like the way he votes. We need to drain the swamp.”

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