The answer, he said, is “unequivocally to get Americans back to work, to get Americans back to their businesses,” reopening schools and churches as well.
“There is no zero-harm choice here,” he told Indianapolis’s WIBC. “Both of these decisions will lead to harm for individuals, whether that’s dramatic economic harm or whether it’s loss of life. But it’s 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.”
Hollingsworth’s position, putting “way of life” over life, has been echoed by some conservatives in recent weeks as the pandemic continues to cause economic disaster for millions of families nationwide. Notably, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) called on grandparents to sacrifice themselves to save the economy during an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Conservative radio host Glenn Beck followed suit, saying he would “rather die than kill the country.”
To be sure, the economic consequences are proving momentous, with more than 17 million Americans filing for unemployment in three weeks, as of nearly a week ago. But public health experts and economists have warned that reopening the country too soon, causing a spike in cases and death, could be even more disastrous for the economy if the virus isn’t contained.
President Trump on Tuesday suggested May 1 as an aspirational date for restarting the country, saying he was “authorizing” governors to reopen by then. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told the Associated Press that the target date was “a bit overly optimistic.”
“I’ll guarantee you, once you start pulling back there will be infections. It’s how you deal with the infections that’s going [to] count,” Fauci told the AP. He said we “have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we’re not there yet.”
In a statement to The Washington Post elaborating on his remarks, Hollingsworth clarified that he believed the country could both reopen the economy and quell the infection rate, that we didn’t have to pick.
“It’s hyperbolic to say that the only choices before us are the two corner solutions: no economy or widespread casualties,” he said. “We can use the best of biology and economics to enable as much of the economy to operate as possible while we work to minimize disease transmission.”
It’s unclear what that would look like. Governors are exploring soft reopening plans, while the federal government prepares guidelines to combat the virus and get Americans back to work. While Trump would like the process to begin next month, other models by public health experts are significantly less rosy. One eyebrow-raising model by Harvard University public health experts, which projected the pandemic’s trajectory, found that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022″ and that covid-19 may recur seasonally.
The plan created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, obtained in part by The Washington Post on Tuesday, envision a gradual process in reopening the economy, phasing cities and states out of stay-at-home orders and into moderate or mild forms of social distancing behavior. There is no specific start date for the plan, although it specified “not before May 1.”
The plan stresses that significantly better testing capacity and contact tracing will be required in areas that want to ease social distancing restrictions, so that people infected with the virus can be isolated. And as Fauci has noted, the timetable for easing those restrictions will largely depend on how badly a community has been hit or is projected to be hit.
“It is not going to be a light switch,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It is going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak you’ve already experienced, and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced.”
The joint plan from the CDC and FEMA reflects Fauci’s concerns, containing this warning: “Models indicate 30-day shelter in place followed by 180 day lifting of all mitigation results in large rebound curve — some level of mitigation will be needed until vaccines or broad community immunity is achieved for recovering communities.”