No, Dan Pa­trick, old peo­ple shouldn’t die — but we aren’t tak­ing COVID-19 se­ri­ously

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion - BY DAHLEEN GLANTON Chicago Tri­bune

Some­thing about a pandemic brings out the best in peo­ple and the worst. It shows us who we really are, whether we choose to see it or not.

There is no bet­ter con­trast than Chicago epi­demi­ol­o­gist Emily Lan­don and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick. They are on op­po­site ends of the spec­trum when it comes to the value of life.

Both be­lieve that sac­ri­fices must be made dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pandemic, but they dis­agree on who should be making them.

Lan­don thinks that ev­ery life — re­gard­less of age — is worth sav­ing. Pa­trick sug­gests that the el­derly are ex­pend­able.

The no­tion that some Amer­i­cans are dis­pos­able dur­ing a health cri­sis is one of the most chill­ing re­al­i­ties to come out of Amer­ica’s re­sponse. Pa­trick took it to a new low on Mon­day.

Ap­pear­ing on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the nearly 70-year-old Repub­li­can sug­gested that the el­derly might be will­ing to sac­ri­fice their lives to pre­serve the econ­omy for their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

“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?’ ” he said. “And if that is the ex­change, I am all in.”

In other words, any­one who has lived be­yond their use­ful­ness should con­sider get­ting out of the way so that ev­ery­one else can go back to work and re­turn to liv­ing their fun and ex­cit­ing lives.

Then there are peo­ple like Lan­don, the chief in­fec­tious dis­ease epi­demi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Chicago Medicine, who sees first­the hand what the rest of us can only imag­ine re­gard­ing the toll this virus is tak­ing on our health care sys­tem.

She re­minded us that life is pre­cious. And she chal­lenged those of us who be­lieve that to make a sac­ri­fice by sim­ply stay­ing at home.

“I know we will get through this to­gether and find a way back to the life that we used to live,” she said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day. “Pub­lic health and hos­pi­tals have been work­ing hard for a long time, and now it’s your turn to do your part. This is a huge sac­ri­fice to make but a sac­ri­fice that can make thou­sands of dif­fer­ences, maybe even a dif­fer­ence in your fam­ily too.”

That struck a chord with a lot of peo­ple. Her brief re­marks were shared over and over across the country. Per­haps it was the ab­sence of judg­ment in her voice when she asked the healthy and op­ti­mistic not to doom vul­ner­a­ble. Maybe it was the mild tone in which she warned that Amer­ica’s hos­pi­tals are not equipped to han­dle an in­flux of peo­ple re­quir­ing beds, oxy­gen and ven­ti­la­tors.

Maybe it was the kind way in which she asked us to be con­sid­er­ate of the many doc­tors, nurses and other health pro­fes­sion­als who are putting their lives on the line in or­der to save ours, even with in­ad­e­quate pro­tec­tive gear.

Or maybe it was her bru­tal hon­esty in telling us that while this bru­tal pandemic in­deed will end, many of the most vul­ner­a­ble Amer­i­cans could die.

It is likely that Lan­don struck a chord be­cause most Amer­i­cans are more like her than Pa­trick. We aren’t will­ing to sac­ri­fice our el­derly in ex­change for the con­ve­nience of go­ing out to Easter brunch. But we can­not ig­nore the grow­ing cho­rus of those at this mo­ment who are sac­ri­fic­ing the health of the el­derly and oth­ers by roam­ing our cities at will. Nor can we un­der­es­ti­mate the power of cor­po­rate Amer­ica to de­mand that politi­cians get things mov­ing again.

Ac­cord­ing to re­cent polls, fewer peo­ple now be­lieve the pandemic is a real threat than they did a month ago. In­creas­ingly, peo­ple are be­gin­ning to think that the coro­n­avirus is be­ing blown out of pro­por­tion, sur­veys show. Less than half of them are vol­un­tar­ily chang­ing their be­hav­iors.

Soon, Amer­i­cans could be at a cross­roads. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has in­di­cated that he’d like to see things start re­turn­ing to nor­mal by Easter. We might have to de­cide what’s more im­por­tant: sav­ing lives or get­ting the stock mar­ket go­ing again. For most peo­ple, the choice is easy. The lives of their par­ents or grand­par­ents are far more valu­able than a thriv­ing 401(k).

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