Lawmaker Says Going Back to Work with COVID-19 Threat Is 'Lesser of Two Evils': 'There Is No Zero Harm Choice'
"It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say this is the lesser of these two evils," Rep. Trey Hollingsworth said Tuesday
An Indiana lawmaker made headlines this week after a Tuesday morning radio show interview in which he weighed what was the better option amid the novel coronavirus pandemic: Reopen businesses and resume normal public gatherings to prevent further economic damage — or keep the country shut down to save lives from the contagious respiratory illness, which causes the disease COVID-19.
“There is no zero harm choice here,” Indiana Rep. Trey Hollingsworth told WIBC in Indianapolis.
“Both of these decisions will lead to harm for individuals,” he said, “whether that’s dramatic economic harm or whether that’s the loss of life.”
“But,” the 36-year-old Republican continued, “it is always the American government’s position to say in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life of American lives, we have to always choose the latter. And this is what I push back on by these people who say science should govern all of this.”
Critics were quick to push back on Hollingsworth.
“My former state rep Trey Hollingsworth is one of the wealthiest members of Congress … and he’s cool with you dying so long as the economy lives,” one user tweeted.
A former Obama official, meanwhile, wrote: “He thinks you, your siblings, parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors are all expendable.”
The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the U.S. has been two-fold.
Some 26,000 people have died from the virus out of more than 600,000 confirmed infections, according to a New York Times tracker.
Should the virus spread unchecked, hundreds of thousands of more people could die as hospital resources are overwhelmed, health experts have said. Instead, widespread social distancing has been imposed to slow infections while researchers work on treatments and a vaccine.
At the same time, about 17 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past weeks, according to reported unemployment data.
President Donald Trump — who has openly wavered between encouraging more social distancing and wanting to return to business as normal as the economy continues to shrink — touched on the pressures from these problems during a virtual town hall on Fox News in late March.
“You’re going to lose a number of people to the flu, but you’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression,” Trump, 73, said on March 24.
“You’re gonna have suicides by the thousands,” he contended. (At the same time, Trump sees a robust economy as key to his campaign ahead of November’s election.)
Trump and his political allies, such as Rep. Hollingsworth, have also said it’s their hope to see Americans’ “way of life” back to normal as soon as possible.
To limit the immediate economic fallout, the federal government passed a $2 trillion relief bill last month and began issuing $1,200-plus stimulus checks to Americans this week.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported Wednesday that retailers saw their lowest sales ever in March — an 8.7-percent drop off from February — since the government began tracking retail sale information in 1992.
Congress is working on another stimulus package, while lawmakers around the country — including Trump, governors and mayors — have said they’re relying on health officials’ recommendations for how and how quickly to safely reopen the economy in what is likely to be a staggered, state-by-state approach.
Hollingsworth said Tuesday that he didn’t think the relief bill last month, known as the CARES Act, or “any amount of legislation out of D.C. is going to get Americans back up and running” and that only Americans can “solve this problem.”
“That’s the strength of this country,” Hollingsworth said in his radio interview. “We’ve got to understand that and get Americans back to work, back to their businesses, back to school and back to churches. That’s where they want to be when I talk to them every single day.”
Hollingsworth’s office did not respond to PEOPLE’s question, in light of those comments, about whether he believes reopening the economy now with the risk of increasing American deaths from the virus was more valuable than a continued shutdown.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and the medical face of the government’s coronavirus response, told the Associated Press this week that once the economy starts to reopen, it will allow the virus to spread.
“I’ll guarantee you, once you start pulling back there will be infections,” Fauci said. “It’s how you deal with the infections that’s going count.”
By that he meant “getting people out of circulation if they get infected, because once you start getting clusters, then you’re really in trouble.”
Some lawmakers, like Rep. Hollingsworth, have signaled they’re tired of waiting out the virus compared to a slowing economy.
“It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say this is the lesser of these two evils,” Hollingsworth said. “It is not zero evil, but it is the lesser of these two evils and we intend to move forward that direction. That is our responsibility and to abdicate that is to insult the Americans that voted us into office.”