Sen. Johnson: Current economic restrictions could lead to more suicides, overdoses

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin)
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson warned current economic restrictions caused be the coronavirus pandemic could drive people to take their own life or die from a drug overdose.

In an editorial published Tuesday in USA Today, the two-term Republican cited the current number of suicides and overdose deaths, which he placed at 48,000 and 67,000 respectively, and posited the “psychological and human toll if this shutdown continues indefinitely, unemployment reaches 20 percent or higher, as some now predict, and we sink into deep recession or depression.”

Johnson relied on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Center for Disease Control and Prevention for his health statistics, but did not say where his estimates of 20 percent unemployment came from. A recent Goldman Sachs study reportedly projected a 15 percent rate next quarter, while the St. Louis Federal Reserve branch forecasted a temporary spike to 32 percent. Both forecasts temper their estimates by noting massive growth will occur immediately thereafter.

Johnson, who serves on the Commerce and Homeland Security committees, described the recently passed $2.2 trillion stimulus bill “a less than perfect attempt to mitigate some of the economic fallout.”

Describing death as “an unavoidable part of life,” he pointed to the “particularly bad” 2017-18 influenza season, in which the CDC estimated 61,000 people died in the United States, and questioned what would had happened if that flu had been covered as extensively as the coronavirus pandemic. The government’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has cautioned the current U.S. death toll could top 100,000, even with current precautions, and President Donald Trump has begun bracing the nation for such a reality.

Finally, arguing that the economy needs to be more open, Johnson asked governments and health officials to flip the script on how they describe which businesses need to be open or closed during the outbreak. Instead of a list of what is essential, he proposes creating a list of what isn’t.

“A commonsense approach would be to keep those shut down and to provide financial support to their employees, and the businesses or organizations themselves, so they can reopen and rehire when the threat subsides,” he concluded.

The Op-Ed was part of USA Today's "Today's Debate" feature, which includes the other side of the debate as well. In its response, the paper's Editorial Board made the case that relaxing the guidelines too soon would carry economic - as well as human - costs.