Longtime congressman downplayed virus concerns to seniors

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JUNEAU, Alaska The longest-serving member of the U.S. House urged fellow seniors — a group health officials say is at a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus — to “go forth with everyday activities” amid virus concerns he characterized as overblown.

Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, 86, made the comments in a speech last Friday in Palmer to older Alaskans and members of the Palmer and Wasilla chambers of commerce, the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman and Anchorage Daily News reported.

“They call it the coronavirus. I call it the beer virus. How do you like that?” the Anchorage Daily News quoted Young as saying. ”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 was apparently referring to Corona beer.

He blamed media for contributing to hysteria about coronavirus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says adults 65 and older are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The CDC recommends people avoid crowds as much as possible and non-essential air travel and take other measures, such as washing hands frequently.

Young’s speech came two days after Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared a public health emergency ahead of the first cases in Alaska being reported. A week before the speech, Young said he had launched a section on his website to provide coronavirus information.

Young’s campaign manager, Truman Reed, told the Anchorage newspaper he understood that Young was trying to urge calm. He said the impact of the virus is real and “causing all of us — our governments, businesses, health care professionals and as individuals — to have evolving views and protocols to face its challenges.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But for the elderly and people with existing conditions, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority of those who are infected recover.

Here are some other developments in Alaska concerning coronavirus:

TOURISM

Industry and government travel restrictions affecting the cruise industry are expected to have a big impact in Juneau, where one of every seven or eight jobs is in travel and hospitality, KTOO-FM reported .

The 2020 cruise ship season had been poised to set records. At Juneau Tours and Whale Watch, General Manager Serene Hutchinson said pre-sales had been up as much as 40%.

The company planned to have a summer staff of 85 to 90 people. Instead, Hutchinson said, she recently laid off half her year-round staff, reducing the company’s roster to five employees.

“Now, the people I just laid off are really nervous because they don’t know when they’re gonna start back,” Hutchinson said.

She told her seasonal workers to “stand by” but expects to lose them to other work.