Republican senator questions federal guidance issued to fight coronavirus as cases and deaths rise

Sen. Ron Johnson questioned the severity of the federally issued guidance in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and asked that people consider the economic risks the guidance could bring.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson cast doubt on the severity of federally issued guidance aimed at staunching the spread of the novel coronavirus, urging people to consider the economic drawbacks of the recommendations as health officials plead with the American public to heed them.

“I’m not denying what a nasty disease COVID-19 can be, and how it’s obviously devastating to somewhere between 1 and 3.4 percent of the population,” Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tuesday. “But that means 97 to 99 percent will get through this and develop immunities and will be able to move beyond this.”

“But we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about,” Johnson continued, in apparent reference to recent guidance issued at the federal and state levels for people to avoid large groups and stay away from bars, restaurants and other businesses to help blunt the spread of coronavirus. “We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged Americans to practice social distancing, and the White House on Monday issued guidelines that all Americans avoid gathering in groups of more than 10, avoid non-essential travel and that urged older people to stay at home.

The recommendations — which come as the coronavirus continues to take hold in the US with at least 8,525 cases and 145 deaths as of Wednesday night — has caused some states and cities to implement drastic regulations on businesses. But the death toll from the virus, the nation’s top infectious disease expert has warned, depends on how seriously Americans commit to the actions necessary to curb the outbreak.

Johnson said that he was not discrediting those restrictions, but said they were disproportionate to the virus’ actual threat.

“I really don’t want to say that” efforts to contain the virus have gone too far, Johnson said. “It may be exactly what we need to do. But again, what I do want to do is put this all in perspective as we move forward here.”

“I’m not saying we’re overreacting … people need to take this seriously,” he said, later adding that “we also need to really understand the costs of potentially going too far here. But nobody knows what too far is, which is what’s so difficult about the situation.”

When asked whether he backed state efforts to limit large gatherings and advocate for social distancing, Johnson replied, “I’m saying, ‘follow the guidelines’ … I’m not being critical of the governors that are closing things down. … I understand it completely. I’m just saying I am hopeful we … can, in the end, put this all in perspective and we can get the economy back on track as soon as possible.”

Johnson pointed to society’s need for hospitals, grocery stores, drug manufacturers and the economy at large to continue to function.

“We can’t all just shut ourselves and stay home. The economy has to move forward,” he said. “And again, a rational reaction to this would recognize the fact that the vast majority of people that get coronavirus will survive without much worse symptoms than a cold or a normal flu.”

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed a coronavirus relief package that includes provisions for free testing and paid emergency leave — the same day that Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ben McAdams announced they were the first members of Congress to test positive for coronavirus, a grim new indicator of the virus’ aggressive spread.

Comments

comments