A Republican congressman from Alaska reportedly appeared to downplay the coronavirus pandemic to a group of senior citizens last week, saying it’s a problem caused by media “hysteria” and that its deadliness has been “blown out of proportion.”
“They call it the coronavirus. I call it the beer virus. How do you like that?” Rep. Don Young said during a luncheon at Mat-Su Senior Services on Friday, reported the Anchorage Daily News, which obtained audio of the event. He was apparently referring to the Corona beer brand.
“It attacks us senior citizens. I’m one of you. I still say we have to, as a nation and state, go forth with everyday activities,” Young, 86, said, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
His remarks last week, which were first reported by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, went against the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance encouraging older people to “stay at home as much as possible” and urging social distancing.
The CDC has since recommended that no gatherings with 50 people or more take place for the next eight weeks, and the Trump administration on Monday advised all Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 and urged older people to stay at home — advice which Young has shared on his congressional website and social media pages.
“Again, guys, this is blown out of proportion about how deadly this is. It’s deadly, but it’s not nearly as deadly as the other viruses we have,” Young said Friday, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
CNN has reached out to Young’s congressional office and campaign.
“It was my understanding that the Congressman was trying to urge calm, stressing his confidence that we will weather this storm,” Young’s campaign manager, Truman Reed, told the Anchorage Daily News.
Reed added, “This pandemic’s impact is very real, growing and causing all of us — our governments, businesses, health care professionals and as individuals — to have evolving views and protocols to face its challenges,” the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Reed confirmed to the newspaper that Young’s campaign has canceled and postponed campaign events.
The Alaska congressman has also announced on Facebook Monday that he directed staff in all his offices to telework “out of an abundance of caution.”
“Congressman Young continues to be concerned for populations particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, including seniors,” Young’s press secretary Zack Brown said in a statement to the Anchorage Daily News.
Brown pointed to Young’s vote on the $8.3 billion total coronavirus response package passed by Congress earlier this month and told the Anchorage Daily News that Young “has been in communication with House Leadership to ensure that proper resources are available to turn the tide in the fight against COVID-19.”
Young, however, was absent for the House vote early Saturday morning on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which includes provisions for paid emergency leave and free testing for COVID-19.
During his Friday remarks, Young criticized the coronavirus relief package, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Trump earlier that day had declared a national emergency to free up $50 billion in federal resources to combat coronavirus.
“We have to be aware of that because even the President’s proposal sounds good, $50 billion, $50 billion we don’t have. We’re gonna borrow that money from the future generations,” he said, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
“We (would) solve a problem right now that’s been created primarily by hysteria,” he added, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Young argued that “whether you realize it or not, we are at war now. But mostly because of the presentations by the mass media,” the newspaper noted.
Since the first reported case in the US on January 21, there are more than 10,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other US territories, according to CNN’s tally. In total, more than 160 people have died as of early Thursday afternoon.
As of Wednesday, there are nine cases of coronavirus confirmed in Alaska, according to the state’s Department of Health and Social Services.
Health officials have said that older adults were twice as likely to have serious illness from the novel coronavirus and the fatal cases in the US appear to reflect that.