My fellow Americans, I am again speaking to you tonight from the Oval Office, this time to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading through our country.
At this very moment, doctors, nurses and first responders are working around the clock to treat patients infected with COVID-19 and trying to save as many lives as possible.
There’s a lot we have yet to learn about this virus but there is a lot we have already learned in the last few weeks.
For example, we learned that the people who are most susceptible to serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 are the elderly and those who are not elderly but who have two or more risk factors such as hypertension, obesity, coronary artery disease and asthma. This means the vast majority of people under retirement age have very little chance of developing serious COVID-19 illness.
To date, we have taken measures around the country to try to mitigate the known spread of COVID-19, but we have also learned through new antibody testing that far more people have been exposed to the virus than the “confirmed case” numbers indicate. This means the disease is far less deadly than originally thought.
These learnings require us to change how we act in trying to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
As a country, we collectively decided to dramatically and temporarily curb our economic activity to flatten the curve in an attempt to save lives that would be lost if our local hospitals were overwhelmed. But we always knew that the negative side effects of such curbs would be great.
With record numbers of Americans taking pay cuts or losing their jobs altogether, we need to start reopening the economy in the smartest way possible. Let me be clear, this is not about lives vs. the economy. This is about lives vs. lives.
We know that when people are out of work, despair follows quickly. And along with despair come the symptoms and illnesses of despair: depression, alcoholism, violence, crime and suicide. We also know that poor economic conditions lead to poor health outcomes. Another thing to consider is how many new diabetes diagnoses or new cancer diagnoses are being missed because of the lockdowns and the interruption of normal medical appointments and procedures.
There are global ramifications to this economic crisis as well. The IMF is projecting a 3.0% global economic contraction. Contrast that to the 0.1% contraction of the “Global Financial Crisis” of 2008-2009 and you can see the gravity of this situation.
A contraction of the magnitude being projected will plunge hundreds of millions around the world back into extreme poverty. In 2019, the UN estimated that 822 million people around the world were still malnourished. How many of those people just this side of starvation will perish because of the economic contraction caused by our efforts to stop the pandemic? Remember, unlike COVID-19, starvation and the illnesses of extreme poverty don’t discriminate based on age and other risk factors.
We need to focus our actions where they really count: isolating and caring for the sick and vulnerable. In Michigan, Governor Whitmer has focused on making parts of big box stores off-limits to shoppers while the virus is ravaging that state’s nursing homes. Governor Whitmer is by no means the only one who has taken her eye off of the ball. I fear that many of our local leaders are bossing their residents around because they don’t know what else to do to appear as if they are doing something.
For this reason, I am calling on the governors to begin lifting their lockdown orders with an eye toward resuming as much normal economic activity as possible, as quickly as possible. Each governor should know what the situation is on the ground in their state. A one-size-fits-all policy makes no sense. They should also consult with local leaders to make sure that necessary resources are allocated where they are most needed.
Lastly, I am tasking the Attorney General to begin investigating states and localities that are infringing on constitutional and civil rights. The framers of our constitution didn’t declare these rights to be sometimes alienable. They are inalienable.
I am confident that by standing on our shared values as a nation, using rational policy informed by actual data, we will overcome this pandemic.
Good night, God Bless you and God Bless The United States of America.