By Laura French
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden held a virtual roundtable meeting with frontline workers, including an Indiana firefighter-paramedic, on Wednesday, discussing challenges faced by first responders and healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the discussion, Biden and the roundtable participants, including Hamilton County IAFF Local 4416 President Tony Murray, touched on topics including PPE, physical and mental health concerns, vaccines and the economic impact of the pandemic.
"The question's going to be: When do we have to start laying off, because the counties and the cities don't have the money?" Biden said. "They can't deficit spend, they have to spend based on balancing their budget, when the first responders and fire service will be laid off, including all those folks like you who run those emergency ambulances and get people to where they have to go get quickly."
The president-elect said he intended to work with Congress to provide funding to state and local governments in order to prevent layoffs and help the economy recover, noting his involvement in the Recovery Act during the Great Recession in 2009, when he was vice president.
Murray explained that some of his greatest concerns as a firefighter-paramedic during the pandemic were PPE shortages, the fear of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to family members, and the mental health toll on first responders.
"I literally have people sleeping in their car for a certain amount of time outside of the home in the driveway, so they don't take it into their family until they can get a test or get results of a test … People sleeping in campers," Murray said. "We'll always find a way to do our job. And we'll never ask a question, we'll just do it. That's what we do. We go and answer the call and take care of the emergency, take care of the person. This is a humanitarian effort every day, 365, that's the work that we do. But I think that those two things go hand in hand, is that fear of transmitting to family, but also having to just push all of these feelings down, because you got to get up and go the next day."
Murray also expressed concern about first responders running out of or needing to reuse PPE, adding that public safety agencies have not gotten the same support in that area as health systems, and stated that both first responders and healthcare workers should get priority access to COVID-19 vaccines to "continue to deliver these vital services when people need us the most."
Biden told the roundtable, which also included a Seattle home healthcare worker, a Minnesota nurse and a Cleveland school nurse, that he would ensure they were protected, stating, "As President, I'm going to fight as hard as I can, as hard as you're fighting for your communities. We're going to make sure that you get the personal protective equipment you need. We're going to make sure you have paid sick leave. We're going to make sure that you can care for your families."
Watch the full roundtable discussion below: