Cornyn dangerously says national shelter-in-place order would be an ‘overreaction’

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In an interview with The Hill on Saturday, Sen. John Cornyn said a national shelter-in-place order would be an “overreaction” in combating the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“I mean, we know what to do,” Cornyn said, suggesting that voluntary social distancing was enough. “We need the social separation and the hygiene [sic], while we continue to test for cures and while we continue to work toward a vaccine.”

“Locking down the country more than necessary to defeat the virus to me seems like an overreaction,” he said.

It’s the latest statement by Cornyn downplaying the once-in-a-century pandemic afflicting the nation. Last month, Cornyn replied “blah blah blah” to a series of critical Democratic objections over worker protections and corporate bailouts in the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Before that, he tweeted a picture of himself drinking a Corona beer days after Texas issued a statewide public health disaster over the outbreak. 

But Saturday’s remarks are by far the most upsetting yet, particularly because they go against the advice of health experts, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said last week that every state in the U.S. should have a shelter-in-place order.

It’s possible Cornyn may be under the same impression as Gov. Greg Abbott, who recently issued a “stay-at-home-except-to-provide-essential-services-or-do-essential-things order” — an executive order quite literally identical to stay-at-home orders in other states in everything except name. It’s genuinely unclear whether Cornyn, like Abbott, understands that a shelter-in-place or a stay-at-home order isn’t akin to jailing residents in their homes under lock and key.

Last month, more than 20 House Democrats urged Trump to issue a nationwide shelter-in-place order. Trump has so far resisted those mounting calls, often using the same logic as Cornyn, arguing that “states are different.”

But even now as the pandemic ramps up dramatically and has yet to enter its peak in most states, a national shelter-in-place order could still save lives. 

For example, Texans could stand to benefit from such clear language coming from the nation’s president instead of Abbott’s wishy-washy approach. Likewise, local counties who have already issued stay-at-home like Harris and Dallas County still need all the help they can get in publicizing and conveying the importance of such orders; orders from a local county judge will make fewer headlines and carry less weight in the public imagination than a message from the president beaming into the homes of millions of Americans ordering them to stay at home.

Texas Republicans leading the state are running out of time to issue the sweeping and often disruptive measures desperately needed to battle the pandemic, such as pushing for a national stay-at-home order, or shutting down airports and issuing travel bans in their own state. 

According to a preliminary projection by the University of Washington using local Texas data of confirmed cases, Texas is roughly two weeks from its peak in daily COVID-19 deaths. It means the state’s coronavirus curve is expected to hit its peak late this month and begin falling in early May. It also means there is still time to save lives and stop calling the basic pandemic response to do so an “overreaction.”

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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