The clamor for a swift return to normal has started to pick up in recent days — particularly in the right-wing media ecosystem.
That’s come as President Donald Trump has suggested that he could quickly move to change his administration’s guidelines in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in hope of returning some people to work in less than three weeks and ending the stock market slide.
No example drew more attention than an interview that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, gave Monday night on Fox News, in which he suggested that some elderly Americans — the group most at risk of death from COVID-19 — should be willing to sacrifice their lives so the economy can gain steam.
“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for its children and grandchildren?’ And if that is the exchange, I’m all in,” said Patrick, 70.
But Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, tweeted that while there is “a strong and understandable desire to return to better times and a functioning economy,” it “should not be lost on anyone that there’s no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as COVID-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities.”
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Gottlieb and other experts have warned that too quick a return would cause much more economic distress than continuing course for a while longer.
“So long as COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled, older people will die in historic numbers, middle aged folks doomed to prolonged ICU stays to fight for their lives, hospitals will be overwhelmed, and most Americans terrified to leave homes, eat out, take the subway, or go to the park,” he said, adding, “there’s no easy return” and “we must accept a sober truth.”
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed back against Patrick’s sentiment, saying, “My mother is not expendable.
“And your mother is not expendable,” he continued. “And our brothers and sisters are not expendable. We’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable. We’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”
The core of Patrick’s argument to get back to normal is that the response to the outbreak is more damaging than the pandemic itself. It has been echoed by a number of others, including right-wing commentator Jesse Kelly, who tweeted that he’d “happily die” if the choice was either death or “plunging the country I love into a Great Depression.” Laura Ingraham, one of Fox News’ most prominent prime-time personalities, tweeted that health officials “should not be the determinative voices in policy making now or at the end of 15 days.”
Elsewhere, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that even a mortality rate as high as 3.4 percent from the illness does not justify shutting down major parts of the economy. And Lloyd Blankfein, the former top executive at Goldman Sachs, tweeted that those with a lower risk of death should return to work within “a very few weeks.”
On Monday, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., a top evangelical ally of Trump’s, welcomed more than 1,000 students back to his university in Lynchburg, Virginia, from spring break even as classes move online.
Trump’s frustrations with the economic downturn first spilled into public Sunday night, when he tweeted in all capital letters that “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” By Tuesday, Trump was delivering his clearest time frame, telling a Fox News town hall that he’d “love to have” the country “open by Easter,” which is a less than three weeks away.
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The push comes as White House aides feel they are in a no-win situation. If the administration pushes to ease restrictions, it could be blamed for increasing deaths as the virus spreads. But they see far-reaching consequences for having Americans stuck at home for weeks or months.
Beyond the economic impact, administration officials warned about the effect on children who have bad home lives or the health effects from the physical and emotional stress on people who have lost their jobs, a White House official said.
Already, some administration officials say they worry that the White House went too far in allowing public health experts to set policy and that their actions need not have been so draconian. The number of total confirmed cases in the U.S. is right about 50,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
What’s less clear is whether Trump has the ability to quickly alter the country’s course, aside from using the bully pulpit.
Governors and local officials have implemented shutdowns, although many are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In many places, school systems are shuttered for the rest of the school year, while restaurants, bars, gyms and other large gathering places have been closed. Meanwhile, private industry has instituted its own instructions during the pandemic.
“Fun fact: since Donald Trump didn’t actually close anything down, he can’t actually open anything up,” Ron Klain, who served as the Ebola czar in the administration of President Barack Obama, tweeted.
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Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, cautioned that the president is looking to reopen swaths of the economy in places that have not been hit as hard by the virus, adding that the administration is “not abandoning health professionals’ advice, but there is a clamor to try to reopen” the economy.
It’s difficult to know exactly which places are safer from the virus, as it has a lengthy incubation period while widespread testing still has yet to fully take off.
The push runs counter to the messaging from health experts, including some in Trump’s administration. On Friday, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he “cannot see that all of a sudden, next week or two weeks from now, it’s going to be over.”
“I don’t think there’s a chance of that,” he said, adding that any change is at least several weeks out.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s closest congressional allies, tweeted Monday: “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world.”
“There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus,” he added.
For his part, Cuomo did suggest that a strategy in which some elements of the shutdown are loosened — with less vulnerable people returning to work — may be possible in the coming weeks if both the public health and economic approaches are “done intelligently.”