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Sen. Braun On COVID-19 Concerns And Whether Indiana Reopen Too Soon

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The nation's leading health officials are offering a stern warning about reopening the country too soon. Here's Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak you may not be able to control, which, in fact paradoxically will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery.

MARTIN: That warning from Dr. Fauci came during a Senate hearing yesterday that focused on the Trump administration's response to the pandemic and when it will be safe for workplaces and schools to reopen.

One of the senators doing the questioning yesterday was Republican Mike Braun of Indiana, who joins us now on the line. Senator, thank you so much for being back on the show.

MIKE BRAUN: Hey, good to be on.

MARTIN: The headline out of the hearing was that there could be dire consequences if the nation reopens too soon, as we just heard there. Your home state, Indiana, has entered the second phase of reopening, which means malls, retail stores, restaurants can reopen. Given what these officials said, do you think your state is moving too quickly?

BRAUN: No, not at all. And it's easy for me because I've been part of the business world for so long before I got here as a senator. My wife has had a store in our downtown. Every business was declared nonessential back at the early start of this, and I didn't like that because most of those businesses could have safely stayed open.

I also believe what Dr. Fauci warns, that we need to pay attention to it. I've not talked to a business owner, small, medium or large, that doesn't know that it's in their own best interest to keep their employees and their customers safe and will follow suit with all the guidelines we're now so familiar with. So I've never been a proponent of one-size-fits-all - I think it's going to make the reopening, the restart tougher. But I think you got to be able to do two things at once. And in Indiana, I think we're willing to do that.

MARTIN: What do you make of the reports coming out of China and South Korea, Germany, where the lockdowns have been lifted and now there are reports of spikes in infections?

BRAUN: You know, I think...

MARTIN: Does that give you concern about something similar happening in Indiana?

BRAUN: It does in places like Indianapolis, maybe near Chicago - because we've got a couple counties that border that metro area - because this has had its worst impact in densely populated areas. A county like mine that has the regional hospital basically had to shut down and had, you know, no pressure on ICU units. So every county is different. Every state is different within the country. What Dr. Fauci says, we need to pay attention to from the health side of it. We need to be a little bit entrepreneurial and agile, though, if we don't want to deal with real carnage economically from this point forward.

MARTIN: I want to go back to that in a moment about these trade-offs. But what about schools? Given that Dr. Fauci said a vaccine would almost certainly not be ready in time for the new school year, do you think schools should reopen in the fall?

BRAUN: So I was sitting next to Rand Paul - in between Rand and Tim Scott. I like to think both had great points - Tim about protecting the most vulnerable and Rand mentioned schools. And I think there, up until recently, young people had been passed over, even though now there might be some particularity that impacts kids with a certain genetic predisposition. I think if we're not at a point in the fall that we can smartly reopen schools, we are going to be contending with something much larger in terms of how we get through this, not only for educating our kids but I think it's going to be symptomatic of what's going to ail the economy as well.

So again, I think you can adhere to what we've learned about the virus. And I'm hoping that we do open schools carefully and safely in the fall.

MARTIN: But are you acceding to a very delicate trade-off that by opening businesses, by opening schools, some people are going to get sick, some people are going to die? And are you arguing that that has to happen because the trade-off is just not worth it, the cost of shutting down?

BRAUN: Yeah. And I think that gets down to a very difficult calculation. In running a business for 37 years successfully through the gauntlet of competition and nothing like this - this is new for all of us. We know it is a peculiar virus that seems to crop up with other characteristics, which means we need to be careful with it. Can we do a one-size-fits-all, a blanket shutdown going forward? No. I think we've got to do something that blends in a way that fits every county, every state due to its risk profile.

MARTIN: Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana - we do appreciate your time, sir.

BRAUN: You are welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.