GOP candidate says 'healthy folks' should be exempt from coronavirus rules

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North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest continues to spread false information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, currently running as the Republican nominee for governor of the state, told a right-wing outlet this week that social distancing rules are only necessary for older and sick people and that rural counties in North Carolina can safely reopen. Public health experts say this is false.

"We know who the people are that are actually at real risk of this virus. It is the people that are the elderly and those that have immune issues already," Forest told the Daily Signal on Tuesday.

"So people that are at risk fall into those categories, and so you can protect those people by quarantining them, having them stay at home for extra periods of time, creating shopping hours for those folks that don’t interfere with other people, creating times at restaurants where those people could actually go and get their food without coming into contact. All these kinds of things. We know the demographics of the people that are hospitalized and the people that are dying," he said.

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Noting that many rural counties in North Carolina have had no reported deaths and that in others those that had the virus have probably recovered, Forest urged the reopening of much of the state's economy. "I think we need to let the healthy folks get back to their livelihoods and allow freedom to reign again in America," he said. "Personal responsibility and freedom is really important, but the government picking winners and losers in the economy based on their own preferences is, I think, a pretty bad thing."

While Centers for Disease Control and Protection data shows that the majority of COVID-19-related deaths have been among those over age 74, more than 8,600 Americans under the age of 65 have also died.

In late March, the nation's top epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that the disease could strike anyone. "What we are starting to see is that there are some people who are younger, people your age — young, healthy, vigorous — who don’t have any underlying conditions who are getting seriously ill," he said during an appearance on a livestreamed Q&A on the coronavirus conducted by 32-year-old basketball star Stephen Curry.

Last month, Bloomberg reported that more than 20% of New York City coronavirus hospitalizations were for people under age 44. The outlet also cited World Health Organization numbers showing "moderate-to-severe cases have occurred in 10% to 15% of adults under age 50."

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that dozens of people in their 30s and 40s are dying of strokes connected with the virus. Robert Stevens, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, told the paper, "We've also taken care of patients in their 30s with stroke and covid, and this was extremely surprising."

Public health experts have also warned that reopening some states will mean the virus will spread from them to other states.

Said Jeffrey Duchin, a professor of infectious diseases with the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, explaining the problem with lifting restrictions in some places and not others: "That's like having a peeing section in the swimming pool. It doesn't stay where you started."

This is not the first time Forest has downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and questioned the need for social distancing rules.

Last month, he falsely said on a livestream hosted by the North Carolina Federation of Young Republicans, "We've still had more deaths to the flu this year than we have had COVID-19. There's been about three times more deaths for HIV/AIDS."

In March, he criticized Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's order to close down bars and restaurants, claiming the move would "devastate our economy, shutter many small businesses, and leave many people unemployed, especially in the rural areas of our state."

Instead, Forest urged, "We should allow those economies [in counties without confirmed COVID-19 cases] to still flourish."

More than 13,000 North Carolinians have tested positive for the coronavirus to date, with reported cases in all 100 of the state's counties. More than 500 of those have resulted in deaths.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.