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Batavick: Let’s not put our nation’s elderly at risk in a rush to reopen America

First came “novel coronavirus.” Then “pandemic.” Then “social distancing,” soon followed by “sheltering in place” and “stay-at-home.” A whole new lexicon unfolded — one that evolved from instructions about coughing into elbows to stockpiling groceries to shuttering schools and businesses.

The cause of this societal rupture is a tiny predator that’s only visible when you peer into a powerful electron microscope. The villain virus is oval-shaped and surrounded by a crown or “corona” of spikes that artists depict as irregularly shaped prickles. (Picture cloves stuck in an Easter ham.) This is the invader that has brought our nation and most of the world to its knees.

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But we Americans are a spunky sort. Scared, but self-reliant and resilient. While the number of infections and deaths climb, we keep each other cheered with phone calls to family and friends and internet gags about toilet paper. There are also many free online concerts by big stars while other shows are staged closer to home. Our daughter, son, and grandkids all got into the act by texting us videos of them singing, playing the keyboard and guitar, and even whistling. (I hope this little one hasn’t inherited my musical talent.)

We are also kind and generous. Since my wife and I are in the high-risk category, neighbors called to ask if we needed anything. A gallon of milk magically appeared on our doorstep. My wife repaid the thoughtfulness by leaving bouquets of daffodils from our garden at our neighbors’ front doors.

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But a nation isn’t a neighborhood. The pandemic is putting many Americans at risk, and there is genuine and understandable alarm. How worried should you be about the health threat? Seasonal flu has a mortality rate of about 0.1% and the CDC estimates that based on China’s experience it will be just a bit more than that if your age is 20-54 years. But probable deaths climb to 1% to 3% among those 55 to 64 years, and as high as 3% to 11% among persons aged 65-84 years. There’s a lot of us in these last two categories.

Remarkably, our deep partisan divide has people coming down on different sides of the menace. A mid-March Pew Research Center study found that 59% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents believed the virus a major threat to U.S. health. Only 33% of Republicans and Republican-leaners thought so. Is this the natural result of the anti-science and anti-expert stance the GOP has staked out on such issues as climate change and environmental pollution? Are Republicans that distrustful of mainstream media reporting and instead following the president’s and conservative media’s perspective? If so, naysayers may be inviting a Darwinian culling.

Regarding the economy’s shutdown, Fox News talk show host Steve Hilton proclaimed that “our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces are whipping up fear” and concluded that “the cure is worse than the disease.” Texas’s 69 year-old lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick (R) agreed when he 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 your children and grandchildren?... If that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Patrick’s boast was countered by Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who has worked in three Republican administrations. He charged, “There’s an attitude toward the elderly of ‘Let them eat cake.’ This is very odd for the pro-life party that for so long it pushed a certain ethic.”

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Few among us welcome the exploding unemployment rolls and the torpedoed Dow average, but we shouldn’t be considering sacrificing a target demographic for the sake of corporate America. I’d give my life in a heartbeat to save one of my grandkids but rushing the reopening of businesses puts too many vulnerable people, especially seniors, at risk.

In a survey of economists by the Initiative on Global Markets, 80% agreed that “Abandoning severe lockdowns at a time when the likelihood of a resurgence in infections remains high will lead to greater total economic damage than sustaining the lockdowns to eliminate the resurgence risk.”

But some people have other priorities. Trump tweeted on March 25, “The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP.”

Yes, Trump’s “election success” is his goal amidst all of this. Mine is simply to stay alive and not be mourning anyone in November sacrificed on vanity’s altar.

Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at fjbatavick@gmail.com.

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