Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick set off a firestorm of criticism after he suggested Monday that he and other older Americans should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy, which he said was in mortal jeopardy because of shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let’s get back to living,” Patrick (R) said. “Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”

Patrick’s comments, on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, came as President Trump shifted his comments from public health and toward the reopening of businesses that could bolster the economy. His comments provoked some panic, said Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, even as policymakers are not facing the point where Americans have to choose between letting people die and letting the economy die.

“There’s an attitude toward the elderly of ‘Let them eat cake,’ ” said Wehner, who has worked in three Republican administrations. “This is very odd for the pro-life party that for so long it pushed a certain ethic.”

With much of the country under a kind of lockdown as the number of coronavirus cases rises, #NotDying4WallStreet became a leading trending topic on Twitter on Tuesday.

But policymakers, ethicists and religious leaders say the government — and the public — must find a balance between public health and economic concerns as they navigate this crisis. Ashish Jha, a professor of global health at Harvard University, said people have set up a false dichotomy, with the economy on one hand and public health on the other.

“It is possibly the dumbest debate we’re having,” said Jha, who has written articles for the Atlantic proposing some solutions. “People are being incredibly simplistic and are not thinking through this beyond the next two weeks. The number of people who have emailed me and said, have you thought about the economic effects? You know, it turns out, I’ve thought about that!”

Jha said he spoke to a policymaker at the White House and urged that the government not set a date for relaunching normal commercial activity until it’s clear how the virus spreads or is contained. But on Tuesday, Trump said he wants to reopen businesses by Easter, which is April 12.

When asked why he picked Easter as the day he wants to end strict social distancing and reopen American businesses, Trump said, “Easter is a very special day for me ... and you’ll have packed churches all over our country.”

As Trump was making his announcement, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, announced it would cancel its annual meeting in June, the first time it has canceled it since World War II.

“The economy is, of course, important in terms of human life and flourishing, but human life is paramount,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Tuesday.

He said he’s concerned that some people seem to be talking about human lives as expendable, while others are talking about rationing health-care resources. Such ideas go against basic Christian tenets, and Americans must uphold the dignity of every human life, Moore said.

“We cannot define people in terms of their age or their perceived usefulness,” Moore said.

Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at Boston College, said people are talking about the economy and the coronavirus-directed shutdown in ways that don’t make sense.

“We’re talking about a planned moment of rest. We’re not talking about an uncontrolled crash,” she said. “The economy is important because it allows people to flourish. It isn’t a demigod we sacrifice human beings to.”

Faith, she said, can offer people a bigger framework for how to think about the crisis.

“Faith gives you hope that this can be worked out with time, patience and ingenuity,” she said. It also offers “a sense of finitude of knowledge of science, the sense that we’re fragile.”

On the policy front, Arthur Brooks, who was formerly president of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, said policy analysts will need to find a balance between economic and health concerns, just as they did between national security and the economy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The big question is: Who’s going to win? The economists? Public-health people? And the answer is both and neither,” he said. “The ethical thing to do is how to think about the balance between these policy poles.”

Any debate contrasting life vs. dollars is misleading, said William Galston, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who has expertise on social philosophy and U.S. domestic policy.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, those greedy corporations. They just want people back in airplanes,’ ” he said. “Almost half of the country is employed in small businesses. It is economic activity that produces the now-famous respirator masks that health-care workers need — to work to preserve their lives, in order to preserve other lives.”

Read more: