Dan Patrick is wrong: Our neighbors aren’t expendable

The choice he offers is a lie, and implies that COVID-19 only impacts the elderly.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is suggesting that grandparents would be willing to sacrifice their lives to fix the economy. The statement was heartless, ignored the millions of younger Americans who are vulnerable to COVID-19, and was completely at odds with the values of everyday Texans.

The choice he offers is also a lie.

Patrick’s implication was that the federal, state, and local governments should roll back or decline to extend their disaster declarations and accompanying orders restricting gatherings and encouraging folks to stay home. Here’s the problem: The virus is the true cause of the economic slowdown, not the government restrictions.

The other lie is the implication that COVID-19 only impacts the elderly. People over 60 are at increased risk of complications, yes, but younger folks with asthma, diabetes, cancer, and other conditions are also at higher risk. The truth is, the virus does not discriminate. 

The stock market’s decline began Feb. 24, weeks before any government movement of business restrictions, and crashed dramatically on Mar. 9, a full week before the CDC reduced their recommended maximum gathering size to 10. Closer to home, before the city of Austin cancelled SXSW on Mar. 6, dozens of companies (including giants like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix) had already pulled out. The economy is struggling because people are afraid.

That fear is well-founded: we are going to lose people to this virus if we don’t heed the advice of medical experts. In a single month, more than 50,000 people in the U.S. have tested positive and if we don’t do our part to “flatten the curve,” that number will exponentially increase. The difference between losing as much as 4% of our population and 0.5-1% is preventing our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. (Note: The seasonal flu typically has a death rate of 0.1%.) That is why the federal government, state government, counties, and cities are all taking action to slow the spread.

As long as the virus is spreading, as long as people are afraid to bring home COVID-19 to their vulnerable friends and family, as long as folks are afraid of every sore throat and cough, millions of Americans won’t return to work, and the economy will continue to suffer.

As Governor Abbott said on a call with legislators last week, the quickest way to get economic relief is to contain COVID-19. The worst thing we could do for both public health and our economic recovery is loosen restrictions and prolong the pandemic over a year or more instead of a few months.

I am blessed to still have both my grandmothers in my life. My father is 63, and my mother is about to turn 60. I want them all in my daughter’s life, and I am horrified that our political discourse has reached this low, where supposed leaders treat my parents and grandparents as expendable.

We owe our gratitude to the courageous local officials who have stepped up to keep our communities safe. They don’t deserve to have their work undermined by our Lieutenant Governor. Additionally, Congress is hard at work on relief packages both for American families and our businesses to jumpstart the recovery once we have the virus under control. 

There is no need to sacrifice our elderly, immunosuppressed, asthmatic, and diabetic neighbors. It’s time for Texans to hang tough, stay the course, stay home, and support our medical providers and first responders.


Erin Zwiener is an author, educator, and conservationist who serves as the state representative for Texas House District 45. She is a fifth-generation Texan and a three-time Jeopardy! champion. She lives in Driftwood with her husband, daughter Lark, three horses, and a mule.