WASHINGTON — Some Republicans in Washington are calling for the U.S. economy to reopen immediately in the face of record job losses, but Florida’s Republican senators say widespread coronavirus testing must be in place before shuttered businesses can reopen.
Sen. Rick Scott released a 60-day, “Get Back to Work” plan on Thursday, while Sen. Marco Rubio said increased testing, contact tracing, certain social distancing measures and antiviral treatments to alleviate COVID-19 symptoms must be in place before the economy can reopen.
That’s in contrast to a handful of their Republican colleagues in Congress, who are saying the economy should reopen immediately. Their arguments, while still in the minority, are getting increased attention this week on cable news and radio stations.
“We got to open this economy. If we don’t, it’s going to collapse,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told Fox News. “Trying to burn down the village to save it is foolish.”
“It should have happened yesterday,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said of reopening the economy.
“We’re extremely unlikely to overwhelm our hospital capacities. In fact, in a matter of days and in some cases the moment may even have passed, that we’ve reached the peak of the rate of infections,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa said to Politico on Wednesday. “This is a completely unsustainable place we’re in.”
But Scott and Rubio, along with most public health experts, say coronavirus testing must increase — to catch new areas of transmission — before portions of the U.S. economy can reopen.
“We have to have a system in place to rapidly test people, isolate them and contact trace people they may have infected,” Rubio said in a video message. “Our hospitals have to have the capacity to handle any surges that may come. We have to identify what restrictions are going to remain in place. Six feet apart in restaurants, at the line in grocery stores...to try to limit as much as possible the growth of these infections.”
“For the economy to get back to normal, the United States MUST have the capacity to test anyone who wants to be tested. Period. There is no excuse,” Scott said in a statement.
Rubio also said the most important medical development “in the near future” is developing antiviral treatments that “keep people out of the ICU, keep them off of ventilators, maybe even keep them out of the hospital.”
Most experts believe a vaccine won’t be available for about a year, at the earliest, and Rubio and Scott acknowledged that keeping portions of the U.S. economy shut down until a vaccine is developed isn’t a viable option either.
“The expectation that we have to ask ourselves is, what is an acceptable level of risk we’re willing to live with despite its dramatic consequences?” Rubio said. “And I think a lot of the answer is what is the capacity of your local healthcare systems.”
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Rubio said South Florida’s healthcare system can currently handle the amount of coronavirus cases without needing to ration care, but the region is “one or two major retirement community outbreaks away from being overwhelmed pretty quickly.”
Scott, a former hospital executive, said hospitals outside of major hot spots like New York City and Detroit should be able to perform elective procedures now to keep healthcare workers employed.
They also acknowledged, in contrast to President Donald Trump, that the decision to lift stay-at-home orders and allow businesses to reopen is up to state governors, with local and federal officials providing input.
But Rubio said more Americans will begin opposing the status quo if it appears shutdowns will drag on for months. Small demonstrations against stay-at-home orders, mostly by conservative activists, occurred this week in Michigan, North Carolina, Utah, Kentucky and Ohio.
“People won’t continue to follow the law after a while and it’s going to create all sorts of problems,” Rubio said. “The flipside of it is we can’t just go back to the way things used to be either, because it will overwhelm our [healthcare] system.”
And Scott, whose plan included specific instructions for the federal government, state governments, local governments, businesses and families, said healing the sick is the top priority before reopening the economy.
“We can and we will come back better and stronger than before,” Scott said. “It will not be easy – it will take strategic foresight, determination and diligence, and most importantly a commitment from everyone, but I know that after we heal the sick, we can also heal our broken economy and get back to work.”
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