Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick faced a backlash Tuesday for suggesting that fellow seniors should risk their health for the sake of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Let’s get back to living,” Patrick, a tea party Republican stalwart and longtime ally of President Trump, told Fox’s Tucker Carlson late Monday, defending the president’s push to reopen businesses in a matter of weeks despite dire warnings from public health officials.
“Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country,” said Patrick, who turns 70 next week.
Patrick said he’s “not living in fear of COVID-19. What I’m living in fear of is what’s happening to this country.”
“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 your children and grandchildren?’” Patrick said. “If that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”
Patrick noted, as the president has, that COVID-19 has yet to reach the mortality rate in the U.S. that it has in other countries.
“I think we can get back to work,” he said.
Patrick's comments became fodder for memes on social media Tuesday about sacrificing the elderly during a pandemic. #NotDying4WallStreet started trending on Twitter. Democrats in Texas and other states were quick to condemn him.
“My mother is not expendable,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York tweeted Tuesday, obliquely referencing the controversy. “We will not put a dollar figure on human life. We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one. No one should be talking about social Darwinism for the sake of the stock market.”
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, released a statement condemning Patrick’s remarks. “The lives of our families, our friends, and our communities have no dollar amount," he said.
Asked about Patrick’s comments at a Tuesday briefing, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican and Trump ally, demurred.
“The primary obligation we all have is public health and safety,” he said, “to get everyone through COVID-19 with minimal loss of life” by decreasing the trajectory of the disease’s spread.
“As soon as we do that, the economy will come roaring back,” Abbott added.
Abbott has declined to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. But he acknowledged that on his way to the briefing he had noticed plenty of traffic, an indicator residents have been venturing out despite his recent warnings.
“We may not be achieving the level of compliance that is needed,” Abbott said, adding that he will consider whether Texas needs “a heightened standard and stricter enforcement.”
As of Tuesday, at least 715 Texans have tested positive for COVID-19 and 11 have died, although testing is limited — about 11,000 have been tested, Abbott said, fewer than those New York is testing daily.
Democrats who lead most of the state’s largest cities and counties issued stay-home orders this week, and Democrats in the state Legislature called on Abbott on Tuesday to extend them statewide.
“The novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly across Texas, and health experts agree that the only way to defeat this virus is for people to stay home,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, who leads the Texas House Democratic Caucus.
More than a dozen Texas cities and counties have announced stay-home orders, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. But neighboring counties and suburbs have refused, even those that reported some of the state’s first COVID-19 cases and have seen infections continue to increase.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he’d like to see a uniform state and federal plan to combat the virus’ spread.
“We could do a really good job of this in Austin, and if we’re the only ones who do a good job it’s not going to work,” Adler said.
Austin faces the same shortages of COVID-19 tests and medical protective equipment as other cities, he said, but has enough hospital bed capacity to treat an increase in patients. But, he added, “the modeling shows us if we don’t do something drastic, that may not be true in two or three weeks.”
Austin’s stay-home order will be lifted if conditions improve, Adler said, but not in time for Easter, as Trump said he hoped would happen nationwide.
“There’s not a prayer of that happening,” Adler said.
“People are going to be very careful about how we move back to the lives we used to have.”