Congresswomen representing the coast held separate and somber telephone town hall events on Wednesday afternoon. Their message: The coronavirus outbreak is among the worst crises in American history and it will get worse before it gets better.

“This is one of the most challenging times in the history of this country,” Rep. Anna Eshoo said from her Menlo Park home.

Rep. Jackie Speier was no less somber. She updated the numbers: There are now 80 cases of confirmed coronavirus in San Mateo County and one death. There are 852 confirmed cases in California.

Dr. Scott Morrow, San Mateo County’s Health Officer, was on Speier’s call and he said the numbers could explode.

“If I was to describe the condition in San Mateo County right now it would be somewhere between dire and catastrophic,” Morrow said. “It is capable of explosive growth in the population.”

Morrow pleaded with citizens to adhere to the shelter-in-place order in an effort to “flatten the curve” of infection. That could ease the expected threat to the entire health care system by stretching out the crisis. However, San Mateo County’s chief public health official said hospitals and doctors are likely to be overwhelmed.

“We do not have enough capacity to take care of the people who will get sick with this even if we surge to our highest levels,” he said. "There are not enough ventilators in this country."

He also took issue with federal assurances that tests for the coronavirus are quickly ramping up.

"Messaging out of the federal government seem to be on another planet from what is happening locally," he said.

"The happy talk coming out of Washington is just not reality," Speier said.

Morrow acknowledged that the sheltering order is difficult. He noted that humans are social animals.

“We desperately need each other,” said Morrow, who is also a primary care physician who has seen patients for years. “Other people are like vital organs. They are as important to your brain as your heart and kidney.

“Unfortunately, my order severs those relationships,” he said.

The congresswomen noted a range of ecocnomic relief that is on the way from the federal government, including help with paid sick leave for those working in small businesses. Speier said she expected the eventual package could reach $1 trillion.

Morrow also urged residents to do their part to help local businesses, which are also being laid low by the disease.

“Our economy is an artificial thing made by humans,” he said. “If demand falls, the machine stops. We really need to keep our local businesses intact to the degree we can. To the degree you can patronize local businesses and donate to local causes, now is the time if you want them to survive.”

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