Mar 13, 2020
Bernie Sanders News Conference Transcript on COVID-19
Bernie Sanders held a news conference on coronavirus today, after delivering a statement on the disease yesterday. Read the full transcript of his press conference here.
Bernie Sanders: (06:22)
All right. Well thank you all for being here.
Bernie Sanders: (06:27)
In the midst of a major healthcare crisis that is currently facing our country. I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about the lessons that we can learn longterm about what we are experiencing today. As I discussed yesterday, our country is facing is everybody knows a medical and economic crisis, the likes of which we have not seen for generations and we must prepare for this response in an unprecedented way. Making certain that our government responds effectively and protects the interests of all of our people regardless of their income or where they live.
Bernie Sanders: (07:15)
In other words, this is not just about giving tax breaks to large corporations, but it is about remembering the people today who do not have much money, who were very nervous about the economic futures and about their healthcare prospects. Needless to say, we must massively increase the availability of test skits for the Corona virus and the speed in which those tests are processed.
Bernie Sanders: (07:45)
We need to anticipate significant increases in hospital admissions, which means that we will need more ICU units and ventilators. We will need more doctors, more nurses and medical personnel of all kinds and we must make sure that these frontline personnel are well-protected from the diseases they are treating. I have talked to nurses recently who worry very much about whether they’re getting the kind of knowledge they need and the equipment they need to make sure that they do not get sick.
Bernie Sanders: (08:21)
We need to significantly improve our communications and collaboration with other countries to assure that we all learning everything that we can about the successes and failures other countries are encountering as they deal with this crisis. And furthermore, we must be honest with the American people and communicate as effectively and directly as we can with all of the scientific information that we can provide.
Bernie Sanders: (08:51)
Further and perhaps most importantly, our response to this entire crisis must be guided by the decisions of doctors, scientists, and researchers, not politicians. But as we struggle with this crisis, it is also important that we learn the lessons of how we got to where we are today and what we must do in the future so that we are better prepared for similar crises that may come.
Bernie Sanders: (09:25)
Poll after poll already shows us that the American people understand that we must do what every other major country on earth does, and that is the guarantee healthcare to all of our people as a human right, not a privilege. As we begin to see the failures and vulnerabilities of the current healthcare system, my guess is that those numbers and the demand for universal healthcare will only go up.
Bernie Sanders: (09:59)
The American people are asking, how is it possible that we spend twice as much per capita as the people of Canada and other major countries while 87 million of us are uninsured or under insured, and obviously in this crisis and unbelievably it means that people who are sick today, people who woke up this morning with symptoms of the Corona virus are saying, “I feel sick, but I can’t afford to go to a doctor.” And when somebody is not treated for the virus, somebody who is unable to afford to go to that doctor, that means that that infection can spread to many others putting us at risk.
Bernie Sanders: (10:48)
It’s not just a question that in normal times, tragically, unbelievably, we lose some 30,000 people a year because they don’t get to a doctor on time. But now the lack of health insurance for many millions of people threatens other people as well.
Bernie Sanders: (11:08)
How could it be that when we spend so much more than what other countries are spending, we have millions of people who may be dealing with the virus, but who cannot go to a doctor because they cannot afford it. That is a question that must resonate in every American’s mind. If this isn’t a red flag for the current dysfunctional and wasteful healthcare system, frankly, I don’t know what is.
Bernie Sanders: (11:38)
For the benefit of all of us, we must make sure that every person in this country who needs to seek medical treatment can go to a doctor free of charge regardless of their income. That is obviously what we must do now in the middle of the crisis, but that is what we must do as a nation in the near future. And here are just a few instances about how-
Bernie Sanders: (12:03)
And here are just a few instances about how absurd and dysfunctional our current healthcare system is. It has been estimated that a full battery of tests for the coronavirus costs over $1,300. So first of all, take a look at that. $1,300 to get the test people need to have to know whether they have the virus or not. In America today, 40% of our people don’t have $400 in the bank to pay for an emergency expense. We have half our people living paycheck to paycheck. If their car breaks down, they can’t afford to get it fixed. And if somebody tells them it’s going to cost $1,300 for the test that you need to determine whether you have the coronavirus, what are they supposed to do? What are they supposed to do? What happens to them? Maybe they end up going to a payday lender where they can pay 50% or 100% interest rates on borrowing the money that they need. Do they borrow money from their families or do they go without a test? Which every doctor in the world will tell them it’s a test they should have.
Bernie Sanders: (13:18)
And while the Trump administration says it may cover copays to cover of the costs of testing for those who have insurance, they will not cover the cost of treatment which could cost tens of thousands of dollars. How cruel is that? How absurd is that? To say to people, “Well, sorry you have the coronavirus. We actually covered the cost of the test, but now you’re on your own and it’s going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars to get treated.” That is totally absurd. Clearly, what we need to do is to make sure that if somebody has the coronavirus, that person gets the treatment they need. In other words, we have a healthcare system today which leaves millions of people uninsured, but even if you have insurance, you may not have the ability to travel to a doctor near you because now we’re talking about a system in which many rural hospitals have closed down and people cannot find a doctor in their communities.
Bernie Sanders: (14:25)
The reality today, and this is an issue we must deal with, is that we do not have enough doctors. We don’t have enough hospitals. We don’t have enough clinics in rural communities and in inner cities. Further, we are in a situation when we desperately need affordable prescription drugs yet we have a pharmaceutical industry that continues to make billions in profits by charging outrageous prices for prescription drugs, sometimes 10 times more in this country than in other countries. In my view, the most cost effective way to reform our dysfunctional and cruel system is to move to a Medicare for all single payer healthcare system. And I think, in the midst of this crisis, more and more Americans understand the truth of that. It is nearly impossible to believe that anyone can still think it’s acceptable to continue with a healthcare system that leaves tens of millions of people uninsured. The cruelty and absurdity of that view is more obvious in the midst of this crisis than it has ever been.
Bernie Sanders: (15:35)
And let’s be clear, the lack of healthcare and affordable medicine does not only threaten the health care and wellbeing of the uninsured, it impacts everyone who comes in contact with them. In fact, what this crisis is beginning to teach us is that we are only as safe as the least insured person in America. Further, we are the only major country on earth, the only major country on earth that does not mandate paid family and medical leave, and we’re seeing how that crisis is impacting where we are today. As we speak, there are millions of workers right now who are being told not to go to work yet that they may be ill and should be staying home, but these very same families will face financial ruin if they don’t go to work. These are workers in the restaurant industry, transportation industry, tourism, retail. In other words, the people who interact with the public every single day.
Bernie Sanders: (16:38)
Right now, at a time when half of our people live paycheck to paycheck and at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we must directly address the economic desperation facing a huge number of Americans. So we must finally pass a paid family leave program in the United States to keep this virus from spreading and to keep Americans healthy. We must do it right now. People should not be going to work when they are sick. It is unfair to them, it is unfair to the people they are in contact with. And yet that reality exists because we are the only major country on earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave and sick time.
Bernie Sanders: (17:29)
Finally, from a national security perspective, it is incomprehensible that we are dependent on China and other countries for masks, for prescription drugs, for rubber gloves, and for key parts needed to make advanced medical equipment like ventilators. As a result of globalization and our disastrous trade policies, we have been outsourcing millions of jobs and factories overseas that have gutted our economy. Now we are seeing another tragic and devastating result of those policies as we find ourselves dependent on other countries to provide the most essential things we need to combat a pandemic and protect the lives of the people in our country. Now trade is a good thing, but it has to be based on common sense principles, it has to be based on protecting American workers and protecting our national security, making sure that we are producing what we need in this country in the event of a national crisis. Now is the time to begin bringing back production and manufacturing to the United States and enact fair trade policies so that we are never in this position again.
Bernie Sanders: (18:50)
Now here is the bottom line. As we are dealing with this crisis, we need to listen to the scientists, to the researchers and to the medical professionals, not politicians. We need to move quickly to prepare for the exponential increase of cases we will be seeing here in our country. But as we do that, we must begin thinking about how as a society we can create a healthcare and economic system that is humane, that is compassionate, and that works for all people, not just the wealthiest. Now that is an issue that people have been thinking about for a long time, but I think in the moment, this moment of crisis, more and more people understand that we need fundamental changes to our economy, we need fundamental changes to our healthcare system. I’d be happy to take a few questions. Yeah, Gary.
Speaker 4: (19:46)
Senator, Louisiana is [inaudible 00:19:52].
Bernie Sanders: (19:52)
That’s a tough question and I’ll tell you why. Elections are the bedrock of our democracy and we don’t want to be, hey, delaying elections on a willy nilly basis. On the other hand, if my memory is correct, in states like Ohio and in many other states, schools are being closed down. The NBA has ceased its season. Broadway is now shut down. So there is obviously a growing concern about bringing people together and spreading the virus. So I think the answer to your good question is this is an issue where the doctors and the scientists and the public health officials are going to have to be weighing the risks. I don’t think there’s anybody out there, no matter what your political view may be, who wants to see people become infected because they are voting. So that’s a decision that I hope the public officials in the various states will consult with their public health people and their doctors to make that decision. Yeah. Yes. Yeah.
Speaker 5: (21:01)
Obviously, the way that the coronavirus is affecting [inaudible 00:21:08]. How are you feeling about how this is affecting [inaudible 00:21:17]?
Bernie Sanders: (21:19)
That’s why I’m here today. You’re right. It has significantly impacted our campaign, as all of you know. We do, I think, more rallies than anybody else. They’re often very well attended. I love to do them. We have done dozens of town meetings throughout this campaign, which I love also because you can hear directly from people. And that is changing as you indicated correctly. Our staff is now by and large working at home, so it has radically changed our campaign. What I think we have going for us, which we have always had going for us but we’re going to have to utilize even more, is our internet capabilities. We have many, many, many millions of people who follow us on Twitter, follow us on other platforms. We live stream everything that we do. I think we’re probably live streaming this. And many, many hundreds of thousands of people will be watching. So we are in the process of thinking this through. But this coronavirus has obviously impacted our ability to communicate with people in the traditional way that we do and that’s hurting. Yep, sure.
Speaker 6: (22:33)
It’s clear how you feel about the Trump administration and their response to this. But what’s your assessment of others [inaudible 00:00:22:45]. If I could combine that with another question, have you ever felt the need to get tested for coronavirus?
Bernie Sanders: (22:47)
No, I have not. Thank God I don’t have any of the symptoms. To the best of my knowledge, I have not interacted with anybody who has the virus. So at a time when people are desperately trying to get into the testing, I don’t want to put myself in front of anybody else. So that’s that.
Bernie Sanders: (23:09)
Here is my concern. Traditionally, especially on the Republican administrations, the response to crisis, economic crisis, has often been to protect the wealthy and large corporations. And I would refer you to the Wall Street bailout and tax breaks we have recently seen for billionaires and for large profitable corporations. My concern is that in the midst of this crisis, we pay attention to the most vulnerable people in this country. I was in New York City the other day to do the Jimmy Fallon show, and we were traveling around rush hour. And you know what? There wasn’t a rush. A lot of people were not on the roads. I talked to drivers. They’re not getting the business they used to. The restaurants are not getting the businesses. Conventions are being canceled. The tourism business is in downfall right now. Let us not forget today.
Bernie Sanders: (24:02)
For right now. Let us not forget today, those workers who are being impacted by this crisis and let us develop policies that speak to their needs, so that means extending and expanding unemployment benefits, dealing with paid family leave and sick time, and medical leave. So let us focus on working families, and I have my doubts about how effectively the Trump administration will do that. Yeah?
Speaker 6: (24:26)
So, then Senator, you’re going to go back to Washington now, you’ve got an opportunity now to work with your colleagues to come up with solutions to this problem. Obviously, there’s already proposals that are being discussed, what would you specifically do as a United States Senator to help address this crisis? Do you do have legislation that you’re considering?
Bernie Sanders: (24:41)
Right, we’re going to [crosstalk 00:24:42], good question. We’re going to be working with our colleagues to do exactly what I just said in response to the Shaq’s question. I think, and most Americans understand, that it is totally insane that in the richest country on Earth, we are the only major country not to guarantee paid family and medical leave. You have on top of that, people who are having jobs in this country who have no vacation time, or maybe one week vacation time. I think now is the time to make sure that every American has the paid family and medical leave that exists in other countries around the world, that is something we’ll be fighting for. Unemployment compensation, right now there are many people who are not covered by unemployment at all, and we want to make sure that every American who loses his or her job, gets covered by that program. And needless to say, right now, we must guarantee health care to every single American at no cost to them, and as we move to a Medicare for all system.
Bernie Sanders: (25:48)
So to answer your question, with the focus, I will be working with my colleagues, my focus will be on protecting the working class to the most vulnerable people in this country, including many elderly people. I’m sitting here wondering, I know that in my state, this state, and in states all over this country, the Meals on Wheels program, which is such an important program, often has long waiting lines. Now, what happens if you’re an elderly person right now, and you are told you are the most vulnerable population? You can’t get out of your house, “Don’t go out of your house, don’t go shopping.” What happens to those people? Is anybody paying attention to them? Is anybody visiting with them? So those are some of the areas that we’ll be working. Yes sir?
Speaker 7: (26:26)
Yesterday, former Vice President Biden issued a coronavirus response plan, in the beginning it said that the United States should spend whatever it takes to address the outbreak. Is it frustrating to you that the former Vice President [crosstalk 00:26:38] outbreak that [inaudible 00:26:43].
Bernie Sanders: (26:43)
The answer is yeah, not frustrating, I wouldn’t use that word. What I would say is that right now the absurdity and the dysfunctionality of the current healthcare system is becoming apparent to everybody. And maybe this is an issue that Joe Biden and I will be discussing on Sunday night, but the idea that people are now saying, “Well, we should spend as much as it takes,” when in fact, in normal times we are spending twice as much per capita on healthcare as any other people, while the healthcare industry made $100 billion last year in profits, and the pharmaceutical industry makes huge profits as well. So as I said earlier, I think maybe, maybe for Mr. Biden, maybe for other people, this is a time to think about our current healthcare system. And how does it happen that after we spend so much, so many of us are uninsured or underinsured. Is the function of healthcare just to make huge profits for the insurance industry and the drug companies? Or should it be to provide quality care to all?
Bernie Sanders: (27:51)
And it’s not even just the uninsured and underinsured, it’s parts of this country as you all know, in rural America, where hospitals have shut down. What are you do when there’s an emergency and you have no medical care near you? What do you do when there aren’t enough doctors, there aren’t enough nurses? How does that happen? So I would hope that this crisis, maybe that’s my main point today, that this crisis should be a moment in which people ask fundamental questions about the dysfunctionality of our current healthcare system. And have the guts to finally say to the healthcare industry, the drug companies, the insurance companies and others, that the function of a rational healthcare system is to provide quality care to all, not to make billions in profits for the people who own the industry. Yeah, Kara?
You were talking about the circumstances that people find themselves under a day, you can’t go to work, they have to watch their children. It seems like it would then be hard to step down, to come out and vote during this primary-
Bernie Sanders: (28:51)
… to follow up on Gary’s question, I’m wondering if anyone in your team has reached out to the DNC or the-?
Bernie Sanders: (28:55)
Yes. No, that’s a good point. I mean you’re raising, I mean that’s an additional point to the one that I made. I think we are told right now that we should stay away from other people, that we don’t want to see the virus being spread. And in state after state schools are being shut down and large functions are being shut down. But your point is an additional point, which I think is right, if in states right now, and this is just an issue we have to deal with in so many ways, if childcare centers are being shut down, and they are, you’re schools are being shut down, are they are, what are parent’s supposed to do? What do they do? Well, they’re going to have to stay home and take care of the kids.
Bernie Sanders: (29:40)
Can you go out and vote when you’re staying home, taking care of your little kids? The answer is you can’t. So all I would say is I think that the governors and the officials in the states that have elections scheduled for Tuesday, have to balance things. Again, rescheduling elections is not something we do lightly or should do lightly. On the other hand, at this particular moment, it is absolutely appropriate that public officials, governors, et cetera, listen to public health officials. And your point is also important, to make sure that everybody who wants to vote has the right to vote, and that may not be the case today.
Has there been dialogue-?
Bernie Sanders: (30:25)
Yeah, we have, yes, we have talked to the DNC about this. Yes?
Speaker 8: (30:28)
There have been some reports that President Trump has been in close proximity with people who have tested positive for coronavirus. Would you suggest the president be tested himself and release those results?
Bernie Sanders: (30:39)
I would. I was asked early on, to the best of my knowledge, I have not been in proximity to somebody who had the virus. If I knew that I was, I would get tested, and I think that holds true for the president. And I think as president that he has the right to release that information. Okay, guys. Yeah? Yeah.
Speaker 9: (30:57)
I just, I wonder, I know that the dynamics of your campaign itself have changed a lot because of what’s happening with the coronavirus-
Bernie Sanders: (31:03)
Speaker 9: (31:06)
… and there’s obviously some within the democratic party that are concerned that you might be staying in the race for too long. Has that rethought, have you been forced to rethink your position in the race and what is your longterm goal as you move forward?
Bernie Sanders: (31:17)
Well, my long term goal is to win. The short term goal is to figure out how we deal with the issues that you guys are appropriately raising. Under normal circumstances I would not be in Burlington today, I would be probably in Ohio, Florida, or another state where a primary is coming up, but we can’t do, we’ve decided not to do under the advice of public health officials, not to do rallies. And that’s the right decision, so we are figuring out a way as to how we can best communicate with people, which will certainly be in a very strong way, utilizing our social media capabilities. Okay, guys, thank you very much. [inaudible 00:32:30]