COVID-19’s mildest, yet most contagious variant yet seems like it’s on its way out the door. Are Americans finally done letting the virus dictate their lives?
At the time of my writing this, the 7-day average for new COVID-19 cases in the United States has dropped almost 300,000 from its peak of just over 800,000 just two weeks ago. By the time of my publishing this, we can expect that number to have continued to fall. That peak was over three times higher than any previous peak during the pandemic. Yet, mercifully, average daily deaths have not peaked higher than what they did a year ago. Deaths are, of course, a lagging indicator. While new cases have peaked, we have yet to see if the same remains true of fatalities.
Regardless, the fact remains that omicron has had a significantly lower rate of death and serious illness per infected individual than previous variants have. This is to be expected, by the way. Viruses generally do follow a pattern of becoming more infectious and less deadly over time, as a way of making it easier for them to replicate and spread. We’ve yet to find out for certain, but we can safely bet on a few things:
- COVID is here to stay. There will be new variants.
- Those new variants will likely continue omicron’s pattern of becoming more infectious and less deadly.
- The current vaccine, which was formulated for COVID’s original “wild-type variant” will have no better effectiveness against new variants than it has against omicron.
This raises the question of how we’ll address COVID’s continued presence in our world moving forward. What will federal, state, and local governments do here in the United States? What will governments abroad do? The answer largely depends on what citizens will continue to tolerate.
Here in the United States, COVID fatigue has begun to set in, even among most of the left. In some states, like South Carolina where I reside, and most famously, Florida, life seems to have largely gone back to normal in most respects. We gather at indoor and outdoor events without making a big deal of it, businesses are open as many hours as they can find employees to staff them, masks aren’t required much of anywhere besides health care facilities, and people aren’t obsessively testing themselves twice a week. We act this way not because we have no regard for our fellow man, but simply because the numbers have shown that in states that haven’t returned to normal, the numbers remain roughly the same. We simply didn’t want to bring about more needless human suffering in the form of economic hardships and sapping people of their mental health when the numbers just plain didn’t justify it.
Short-term mitigation wasn’t the only strategy when it came to selling us on the necessity of masking and lockdowns, though. We were told we just had to wait it out until we got our vaccines. Then everything would return to normal. Of course, it wasn’t long until even the vaccinated were told that they’d have to return to wearing masks. At this point, two years in, Americans in many major cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and DC require proof of vaccination in order to buy yourself dinner. Tens of millions still can’t go much of anywhere without a mask, and parents around the country—even in red states, depending on district policy—can’t even send their kids to school.
The recent down-swing of the omicron wave presents a convenient off-ramp for President Joe Biden, whose poll numbers are falling just as rapidly as COVID case numbers. Despite the fact that case numbers will likely rise just as high again in a year, declaring victory and loosening mandates may be one way for Biden to save face with independent voters who are tired of these draconian and unscientific rules. This is largely the strategy employed by the UK’s Boris Johnson following his “partygate” scandal. What would this mean for Biden’s base, though? Remember, over half of Democrats want to keep the unvaccinated locked inside their homes. Will they gladly accept the new narrative that the beast has been slain? Or will they be angry with their president for not doing enough to keep them safe when the boogeyman is still out there?
In 2022, however, the things that have gotten skeptics perma-banned from social media outlets since the beginning of the pandemic are now facts admitted by our very own health officials. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky admits that vaccines aren’t preventing infection and transmission, and mainstream health officials are admitting that the cloth masks we’ve been wearing for almost two years are ineffective (though they claim that this truth is somehow new to the omicron variant).
As the safety theatre of the past two years is beginning to be exposed as such, and COVID is becoming inevitably endemic to the world that we live in, the question becomes this: Why should we treat it any differently than other seasonal respiratory viruses?
We should be treating COVID like the cold and flu. Students and workers should stay home if they personally (not their aunt’s best friend’s dog) are sick, but not be required to quarantine for a prescribed period of time. The current guidelines are admittedly based more on economic realities than science, anyway. We should be developing a different shot each year (and stop referring to a therapeutic as a vaccine), as opposed to forcing one on people that no longer works, just because the government already bought too much of it. Just like with the flu shot, this should be a personal choice that neither your employer, nor the kid selling you a cheeseburger, should be asking you about. Finally, mask mandates should be thrown out and left up to private establishments (most health care facilities would likely keep them, anyway).
“But this virus is so much deadlier than the cold and flu! Even the omicron variant!” One might argue. And while this may be the case, we again should acknowledge that none of the mitigation efforts that have been adopted—the lockdowns, the masks, the vaccine mandates—have caused any significant reduction in cases over jurisdictions that did not employ them. Why should we assume that any action being foisted upon us is keeping us safer, let alone worth the trade-off in people’s ability to provide for their families or children’s educations and social development? Individuals are generally pretty competent when it comes to doing their own risk assessment. Those who feel the need will still get shots, wear masks, and socially distance. For the rest of us, it’s time to return to normal—the whole way.