After facing intense criticism for suggesting on Fox News last month that he’d rather perish from the new coronavirus than see instability in the state’s economic system, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said last night that he’s thankful Texas is beginning the process of reopening its economy because the restrictions are currently "crushing small businesses" and the economic market.
"I’m sorry to say that I was right on this and I’m thankful that now we are now finally beginning to open up Texas and other states because it’s been long overdue," he told interview host Tucker Carlson.
"What I said when I was with you that night is there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us," Patrick said. "I don’t want to die, nobody wants to die, but man we’ve got to take some risks and get back in the game and get this country back up and running."
His comments were in reference to a March 23 interview with Carlson where Patrick implied he would rather die from the widely spreading coronavirus than see the economy destroyed for his children and grandchildren by overreaction to the disease.
During his latest interview on Fox News, Patrick said that, in Texas, the death toll wasn’t high enough to warrant shutting down the entire state. According to the latest data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 19,458 Texans have been sickened from the virus, while 495 have died.
"Let’s face reality of where we are: In Texas, we have 29 million people. We’ve lost 495 and every life is valuable, but 500 people out of 29 million and we’re locked down," Patrick said.
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced initial steps to reopen the Texas economy, including those that will loosen surgery restrictions at medical facilities, allow all retail stores to provide product pickups and reopen state parks. He’s expected to give another update on the state’s response to the contagion later this afternoon.
Other states, like Georgia, have said recently that it plans to reopen bowling alleys, hair and nail salons, fitness centers and massage therapy businesses.
Texas effectively shuttered in late March, when Abbott told Texans to stay home through April unless they were taking part in essential services and activities. Last week, however, the governor named a "statewide strike force" devoted to getting the economy up and running. The group will oversee what Abbott described as a phased reopening, with additional announcements set for April 27 and sometime in May.
Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, along with a litany of other top medical experts and business leaders, are on the governor’s task force.
Abbott said the reopening will happen in phases, and be guided by data and science. But during his interview last night, Patrick implied that revised death toll numbers don’t paint as grim of a picture for the deadly pathogen.
"They told us, Tucker, to follow the science. Well what science?" Patrick questioned. "At the end of January, Dr. [Anthony] Fauci — who I have great respect for — said this wasn’t a big issue. Three weeks later we were going to lose two million people and another few weeks later it was 100,000 to 200,000. Now it’s under 60,000."
Relaxing restrictions too early could significantly increase the death toll from the virus, public health officials warn. Resuming normal economic activity too prematurely could cause a strain on the state’s hospitals and result in more deaths, while exacerbating the recession the state is already in.
In Texas, experts have said that the stay at home orders have helped the state avoid overwhelming the its health care system. So far, Texas has been spared similar outcomes to those of hardest-hit regions like Washington state, New York and Louisiana.
And Patrick, 70, is at an age that statistically puts him at higher risk for fatal consequences of the virus. The coronavirus is most lethal in people over 65.
But he is not alone in his pleas to reopen Texas’ doors. Hardline conservatives in the state, including some members of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, have begged the governor to allow businesses to open their doors.
"I’m a small business guy and I’ve been around the block long enough to see what was going to happen," Patrick said. "We’re crushing the average worker. We’re crushing small business. We’re crushing the market. We’re crushing this market."
On Monday, the price for a barrel of oil plunged negative.
"Tucker, we can not endure this much longer," Patrick said. "Every month we stay closed, it’s going to take two to three months to rebuild.
"It’s time to get back to work," Patrick continued. "Texas is on the lead."