Sen. John Barrasso: Coronavirus collateral damage – here's why we must open smartly, safely and soon

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More than 600 doctors wrote to President Trump asking him to help end the coronavirus-related shutdown aimed at slowing the spread of the disease.

These medical professionals want the country to reopen as soon as possible, calling the shutdown a “mass casualty incident” with “exponentially growing health consequences.”

I am a doctor as well as a U.S. senator, and I agree.

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We cannot allow the cure to be worse than the disease. We closed down our country in order to bend the curve and make sure we had adequate medical resources. We have accomplished that goal in many places across America.

We need to open smartly, safely and soon. The health of the nation depends upon it.

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As a result of the lockdowns, people have been forced to postpone important diagnostic and preventative medical procedures. Patients continue to put off doctor visits that could detect life-threatening problems like cancer and heart disease. Many hospital emergency rooms have been eerily empty as patients stayed away if their symptoms were unrelated to coronavirus.

National headlines call attention to a deepening crisis in mental health care. Loneliness, family upheaval and financial pressures can increase stress, anxiety and unhealthy behavior. A San Francisco-area trauma center reports a year’s worth of suicide attempts in just the past four weeks.

The risk of abuse goes up. This includes spouse abuse, child abuse and substance abuse. It is all going on today behind closed doors all across our country.

Pediatricians worry that since children are not in school or day care, a significant numbers cases of child abuse are not being detected or reported.

We must acknowledge that taking away people’s livelihoods, social supports and educational opportunities has a real negative impact, not just on individuals and families, but on entire communities.  

Unemployment has proven and significant side effects on the health of American families and communities. In 2012, I released a study detailing the link between unemployment, regulatory overreach and negative health outcomes.

The study found that increased unemployment leads to a rising number of hospitalizations, illnesses and premature deaths. Massive unemployment tracks with a rise in heart disease and a decrease in life expectancy.

This is the underreported but alarming story of COVID-19’s collateral health damage. For every coronavirus death avoided, how many more people will die from the health consequences of a prolonged lockdown?

Simply put, sidelining people indefinitely has long-term health consequences. We must acknowledge that taking away people’s livelihoods, social supports and educational opportunities has a real negative impact, not just on individuals and families, but on entire communities.

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Rural hospitals have seen few if any cases of coronavirus but have been financially devastated by the pandemic. Dedicated nurses and doctors have faced furloughs and layoffs as all non-emergency services have been shuttered for months. In the Senate, I have spearheaded the fight to give rural hospitals the support they need to survive this crisis.

As states start to reopen and summer begins, the American people are rightly questioning the rationale for extending the shutdown. They have a right to ask tough questions of their state and local leaders.

Risk is part of our daily lives. As we open our communities, we must do it consistent with public health guidelines. One size does not fit all.

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As we put the emergency phase of coronavirus behind us, people must be free to weigh information and reach their own conclusions. We should not pretend that Washington, D.C., or state governments always know best.

The point is clear: Keeping states shut down will wreak havoc on the health of our society.

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