Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungAlaska tribal groups race to spend COVID-19 relief money WHIP LIST: How House Democrats, Republicans say they'll vote on infrastructure bill Republicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party MORE (R-Alaska) dismissed the dangers of the coronavirus outbreak while speaking in his home state last week, claiming that the U.S. was at war "mostly because of the presentations by the mass media.”
Young made the comments last Friday during an appearance at Mat-Su Senior Services, a Palmer, Alaska, nonprofit that provides housing and services for the elderly, according to The Anchorage Daily News.
"They call it the coronavirus. I call it the beer virus. How do you like that?” Young said, in an apparent reference to Corona beer. “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.”
The 86-year-old congressman said that the deadliness of the virus was "blown out of proportion," claiming "it’s not nearly as deadly as the other viruses we have."
The remarks conflicted with many of the warnings that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other top U.S. health officials have issued amid the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC has urged people to avoid nonessential mass gatherings, and its warnings have helped lead businesses and schools around the country to shutter.
Young's remarks also appeared to conflict with his office's own response to the coronavirus. In early March, Young launched a "coronavirus resource center" on his website that included resources from CDC on the disease and what people should know about it.
Young acknowledged on Friday that the pandemic was comparable to a "time of war," though he placed blame on the press for how governments have responded.
“Whether you realize it or not, we are at war now. But mostly because of the presentations by the mass media," he said.
Ailis Vann, executive director of the Palmer Chamber of Commerce, told the Anchorage Daily News that about half of the audience listening to Young's speech were seniors, the demographic most vulnerable to the virus.
Young's speech came just hours before the House passed a version of the coronavirus relief package to give Americans without insurance free virus testing. The legislation also implements paid sick leave, family- and medical-leave programs and enhanced unemployment benefits. Young, who skipped the vote, reportedly criticized the bill, saying to the crowd: "$50 billion we don’t have. We’re gonna borrow that money from the future generations."
Young announced on Monday that his office would begin working online as precautionary step to prevent the spread of the virus. Alaska had reported six confirmed cases of the virus as of Thursday, according to a New York Times database.
“Congressman Young continues to be concerned for populations particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, including seniors," Young spokesman Zack Brown told the newspaper.
Young's office did not immediately return a request for further comment from The Hill.
The coronavirus has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide, including more than 9,000 in the United States. Two members of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartDefense contractors ramp up donations to GOP election objectors Bottom line GOP lawmakers ask Biden administration for guidance on reopening cruise industry MORE (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), announced on Wednesday that they had tested positive for the disease.
--This report was updated at 10:16 a.m.