In a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine, one lawmaker wrote: “No government can stop death, no matter how hard we try.”
Adolph “T.K.” Mendez was a “perfectly healthy” 44-year-old father of six kids who taught Sunday school at his local church in New Braunfels, Texas. Anthony Brooks was a 42-year-old military veteran, employee at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, and councilman in Live Oak, Texas. Both men were revered in their communities right up until their last moments.
Mendez and Brooks are two of the more than 500 people who have died of COVID-19 in the Lone Star State. More than 21,000 Texans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and the number of deaths and cases have been growing steadily.
Despite the rising death toll in Texas, the state’s Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, is once again prioritizing the economy over public health measures and appears to be downplaying the seriousness of death.
“There are more important things than living,” Patrick said during a Monday interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “And that’s saving this country for my children and grandchildren, and saving this country for all of us. I don’t want to die, nobody wants to die but man we’ve got to take some risks.”
Patrick is not alone in pushing arguments to “reopen” the economy. In recent days, several Republican lawmakers and conservative activist groups—such as Tea Party stalwarts FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots—have rallied around the idea of ending stay-at-home orders and reopening the economy, despite the enormous risks it presents to public health.
On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced preliminary steps to reopen the Texas economy, including the loosening of surgery restrictions at medical facilities, allowing retail stores to provide pick-up options, and reopening state parks. Other states have recently eased restrictions as well. In Georgia, for example, Gov. Brian Kemp has announced that gyms, hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, and nail salons will be allowed to resume some operations on Friday.
Patrick, for his part, has argued that because the projections of total case numbers and deaths in the U.S. have dropped, that means the science behind stay-at-home orders is useless. This fluctuation, of course, is due in part to the implementation of those very stay-at-home orders, which have been shown to be effective in limiting the virus’ spread.
In other words, the projections are dropping precisely because people are staying at home.
The Texas lieutenant governor’s focus on the economy over human lives is nothing new. Back in March, during another appearance on Carlson’s show, Patrick called for grandparents to risk their lives in order to preserve the economy. On Monday, he reiterated that opening up Texas is “long overdue.”
“Five hundred people out of 29 million and we’re locked down and we’re crushing the average worker, we’re crushing small business, we’re crushing the markets, we’re crushing this country,” Patrick said.
Small businesses and individuals are unquestionably suffering—more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past five weeks, and the federal government’s coronavirus relief program has failed to address the needs of most Americans. But leading health experts have said there’s no way to save the economy without prioritizing public health and warned that resuming normal activity too early could result in more deaths and worsen the economic crisis.
“Clearly this is something that is hurting from the standpoint of economics and the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus, but unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said on “Good Morning America” on Monday.
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that jumping the gun and reopening the country too quickly could “backfire” and lead to a “big spike” in cases. This, economists say, could be far worse for the economy. If there’s a second surge and tens or hundreds of thousands of additional American lives are lost, the country will have fewer living, healthy workers to keep the economy going.
“The benefits of saving so many people outweigh the direct economic costs, severe as those costs may seem,” wrote economists Martin Eichenbaum, Sergio Rebelo, and Mathias Trabandt.
Perhaps the most obvious flaw in the “reopen” the economy argument, however, is that it’s deeply unpopular. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found that 81% of American voters favored a national stay-at-home order and a Pew Research survey of 4,917 Americans found that 66% of Americans are worried state governments will lift restrictions on activities “too quickly.” Only 32% said they’re worried that states would act too slowly.
Americans are scared of contracting or spreading the coronavirus, and that fear is unlikely to go away simply because Republican lawmakers want to remove the massively popular public safety measures currently in place. Americans are also in dire financial straits, which means they’re unlikely to resume consumption at the same level that the U.S. had achieved pre-coronavirus. Together, these fears are going to make it extremely difficult for politicians to convince Americans to go out and eat at restaurants, drink at bars, travel on planes, stay at hotels, or spend money on expensive nonessential items, like new cars, clothes, or appliances.
RELATED: U.S. Needs to Conduct 20 Million Coronavirus Tests a Day Before Reopening, Harvard Researchers Say
Politicians can decide they want things to start going back to normal, but just because they want it, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.
Despite all of these concerns and arguments against a “reopening,” several Republican lawmakers are plowing ahead with their fiery arguments for abandoning stay-at-home orders. They include:
- Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, who appeared on Carlson’s show last Thursday and said slowing the spread of the virus was not worth the economic consequences, even if it meant more people becoming sick. “We’ve got to open this economy,” Kennedy said, “If we don’t, it’s going to collapse.” He later added, “Trying to burn down the village to save it is foolish. That’s a cold, hard truth.”
- Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana, who said last Tuesday that allowing more Americans to die from the coronavirus is the “the lesser of two evils” compared to the economy collapsing due to social distancing measures. “The social scientists are telling us about the economic disaster that is going on. Our (Gross Domestic Product) is supposed to be down 20% alone this quarter,” Hollingsworth said in an interview with Indiana radio station WIBC. “It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say it is the lesser of these two evils. It is not zero evil, but it is the lesser of these two evils and we intend to move forward that direction.” Hollingsworth, it’s worth noting, is worth more than $50 million and is one of the wealthiest members of Congress.
- Ohio state Rep. Nino Vitale, who protested social distancing measures at a Friday rally in Columbus. Asked why he opposes the state’s stay-at-home order, Vitale said, “Is the role of government to protect us from death, which is inevitable? Or is the role of government to radically protect our freedom and our liberty? For me, I stand for your freedom and your liberty.” Vitale previously wrote to Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, demanding he open businesses and “rescind all orders” implemented to stop the spread of the coronavirus. “No government can stop death, no matter how hard we try,” Vitale wrote. “Life comes with some level of risk and it should be our choice to determine how we assess that risk as free citizens.”
President Trump has also called on supporters to “LIBERATE” states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia from the stay-at-home orders issued by their Democratic governors. Those supporters, incited by Trump and Fox News, and in some cases funded by conservative groups linked to billionaire Charles Koch and Education Secretary Betsy Devos, have taken to the streets of dozens of cities to hold rallies where they’ve violated the federal government’s own social distancing guidelines.
The president has previously said he would let governors decide when to reopen, but the federal government appears increasingly ready to try and force states to open up, even if it’s against their will. Attorney General William Barr said on Tuesday that the Justice Department would consider taking legal action against governors who continued to impose strict social distancing rules even after coronavirus cases begin to fall in their respective states.
In an interview with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Barr was asked what he would do if governors were “indifferent” to easing restrictions on their states. “We’re looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place,” he replied. “And if we think one goes too far, we initially try to jawbone the governors into rolling them back or adjusting them. And if they’re not and people bring lawsuits, we file statement of interest and side with the plaintiffs.”
Currently, leading health experts including Dr. Fauci and Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration under President Trump, have advocated for a “phased reopening” of states and regions contingent upon having a sustained reduction in cases, robust testing supply, enough hospital capacity and medical supplies, and a program to monitor confirmed cases and their contacts.
The problem is none of those exist right now.