Underwood bashes federal response to COVID-19; Oberweis review mixed

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville bashed the federal government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic as an "extraordinary failure," especially criticizing the shortages in personal protective equipment that have plagued the nation.

In contrast, Republican challenger Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove praised President Donald Trump for imposing travel restrictions on China in late January as the pandemic spread globally.

But Oberweis also said Trump was late to advocate wearing masks to prevent spreading the disease. Trump didn't do that until July.

"I certainly don't give him an A on this," said Oberweis, a state senator and dairy owner.

Underwood and Oberweis discussed the pandemic and other issues during a joint, online meeting with editors and reporters from the Daily Herald and Shaw Media.

More than 6.4 million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., and more than 192,000 Americans have died from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Underwood, who is seeking a second term in Congress, blamed the federal government's response to the virus.

"We continue to lack personal protective equipment for essential and front-line health care workers," said Underwood, a registered nurse who helped communities prepare for public health emergencies as a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The American people are seeking COVID tests and are still experiencing delays - seven (or) 10 days without getting results back."

Underwood also decried how the federal government has forced states to compete for essential medical supplies.

"I think that this lack of leadership coming out of the White House, their unwillingness to put forward a national plan to help our country recover from COVID-19 has been ... an extraordinary failure and has really hurt the American people," she said.

Underwood said she was enthusiastic about the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act relief package, which the House approved in May. After the Senate last week failed to pass a Republican alternative, analysts said it appeared unlikely any bill will be enacted before the Nov. 3 election.

"I have been so extremely dismayed at the partisanship that we've seen come out of the United States Senate," she said.

Conversely, Oberweis said he's distressed by "extreme partisanship" in the Democrat-led House.

"They have taken this situation and tried to capture federal dollars for all kinds of pet projects that have nothing to do with this pandemic, and I think that's just fundamentally wrong," Oberweis said. He didn't cite examples.

Oberweis credited Trump for being "very early" in recognizing the COVID-19 virus was a problem and for restricting air travel from China.

"And when he did that, he was criticized by (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats as overreacting to the situation," Oberweis said. "Hindsight shows that he was absolutely right in doing that and probably saved many American lives."

However, a report by the voter advocacy website showed tweets Pelosi made on Jan. 31 that were critical of president-ordered travel bans were unrelated to the then-new Chinese restrictions. The report was prompted by a viral video released in March by a conservative commentator who slammed those tweets and claimed Pelosi said Trump had overreacted to the pandemic.

Although he credited Trump for the Chinese travel restrictions, Oberweis said the president was "way too late" to recognize the importance of wearing masks.

"That's something that we have required at Oberweis Dairy," he said. "That's something that I've tried to follow indoors, (but) not necessarily outdoors."

Oberweis suggested masks should be worn only when people are indoors and in close contact with other people.

The CDC recommends people wear masks in public and when around people who don't live in their households. The agency makes no distinction between indoor and outdoor activity.

When asked about her thoughts on masks, Underwood said people should follow those recommendations.

"The science and the evidence and most importantly the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations are very clear," Underwood said.

The 14th District includes parts of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, DeKalb and Kendall counties.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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