I am outraged, on both moral and scientific grounds, by President Trump’s April 16 guidelines to “Open up America Again,” giving governors the right to, as the president put it, “call your own shots.” The net effect will allow states to freely open their economies and relax social distancing guidelines and put Americans in danger.
This action is blatantly immoral. In making his announcement, and in subsequent interviews, Trump readily acknowledged that the new policy will result in more deaths than would be the case if the former restrictions remained in place. Nevertheless, it is justified, he says, because doing so will bring back business and jobs to the economy – never mind the increase in deaths.
As far back as March 25, the president told a Fox News Town Hall that the “cure” (following CDC guidelines) is worse than the “problem” (coronavirus and its effects), and in a May 5 interview with David Muir of ABC News, the president acknowledged that there could be more deaths as a cost of reopening, saying: “Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes.”
So, who is it that will die so that the economy can reopen again? The Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, provided one anecdotal answer. On March 23 he said on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Fox News) that he and “lots of grandparents” would risk their survival to keep the country afloat economically. That earned him a mountain of criticism, so slightly less than a month later he doubled down on Fox News by asserting: “There are more important things than living, and that’s …..saving this country for all of us …..and get this country back up and running.”
According to CDC studies, those most at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 disease are persons over the age of 65. Others who are disproportionately affected by the virus are African Americans. According to a CDC study in one major community, 33% of the hospitalized patients were black though they represented only 18% of that community, and blacks died from the virus at more than twice the rate of whites. Then of course, there are the more than 5,000 meatpacking workers who have contracted the virus, according to reports in USA Today and Business Insider. Did the identity of the lambs play a role in the decision to reopen?
There are also the scientific objections to the decision to reopen the economies. On the heels of president Trump’s April 16 announcement, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that certain businesses (gyms, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, hair and nail salons, massage parlors, theaters and restaurants) could open even before the new guidelines were released and in defiance of the existing guidelines and warnings of many experts, according to CNN Politics. Other states, including Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas, also have opted to relax or eliminate the restrictions on doing business and maintaining social distancing pursuant to the new guidelines, even though their incidence of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, according to a report in the New York Times.
In the absence of more widespread testing and contact tracing, we still have no idea of the extent of incidence or deaths in any state. Indeed, in his testimony to the U.S. Senate on May 12, Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged that the number killed by the pandemic in the U.S is probably higher than the official toll, which was then 82,000.
There is no vaccine to prevent the disease and no drug to cure it on the immediate horizon. What all this means is that removal of the restrictions at issue will obviously produce a substantial increase in social contacts and with it, the inevitable increase in transmissions of the disease. So, deaths from the disease, which now occur at the rate of nearly 2,000 a day, are forecasted by some experts to reach the astonishing level of 3,000 per day by June 1, according to an internal government document obtained by the New York Times.
As Dr. Fauci warned in his Senate testimony, the risk is that the failure to adhere to the guidelines will trigger an outbreak or surge beyond control. That, in turn, would cost lives and set back any economic recovery.
To be sure, many Americans are suffering severely from the loss of jobs and business income and there is certainly an outcry from some elements for elimination of the rules. But it is incumbent upon us to find better ways to deal with that problem than the president’s solution of unleashing the virus and forcing some Americans to pay the ultimate price. My Jewish heritage taught me that nothing is more precious than life and it is morally and otherwise unacceptable to shorten the lives of some in order to make others more economically secure or socially comfortable. PJC
Carl B. Frankel is a retired attorney and former general counsel for the United Steelworkers of America. He lives in Point Breeze.