Here we go again.
COVID cases have exploded – about 680,000 a day, officially, and that’s an undercount. Tests cannot follow. The intensive care units are approaching capacity. The CDC’s quarantine guidelines are impenetrable. And now the number of deaths is increasing, over 1,500 every day.
Of course, the omicron variant seems “milder” than its predecessors, especially for those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted. But 12% of Americans over 65 – the most susceptible to serious illness – aren’t fully immunized. Their populations are highly concentrated in the rural regions of the country; omicron has torn major urban centers like New York and Boston so far. Almost 40% of the American population is not fully vaccinated either. In other words, it will get worse.
In the Red States that long ago decided they want the pandemic to end, cases and hospitalizations have skyrocketed: increases of 227% and 293% in Florida, respectively; 678% and 136% in Texas; 546% and 361% in Louisiana; 702% and 203% in Mississippi.
But it’s not just the red states. Two years later, the country – Democrats and Republicans – decided we were out of the pandemic. Schools are open. The same goes for bars and restaurants – in some states, with mask “warrants” that allow you to remove your mask as soon as you eat or drink, making exercise unnecessary. And the Supreme Court seems likely to strike down the Biden administration’s vaccination or testing mandate for employees of large corporations, due to the ideological eagerness of conservative judges to obstruct the “administrative state” (and flirtations anti-vax of judge Alito).
Of course, what the government allows, sometimes the market does not. States and school districts may want to force children and teachers back to classrooms, but the first week after the winter break saw widespread absences among students and educators – and, of elsewhere, the bus drivers. As one parent put it to Washington post: “It’s frustrating because you see a lot of experts on television saying that schools are important, that schools should be open. And that’s true. I fully support this. But no one is doing the things necessary to make that happen, which is to reduce the spread of the community. ”
Meanwhile, as the omicron spreads, the staff shortages plaguing retailers and hotel businesses will only get worse. Hiring already slowed in December as COVID cases increased; things are not looking better for January. In South Africa, where omicron was first identified, cases peaked in mid-December, but deaths continue to rise three weeks later. The cases in the United States have not yet peaked, which means we still have a way to go. To date, nearly 850,000 Americans have died; we’ll almost certainly go over a million this spring, if not sooner.
Think about it: a million Americans have died – more than 1.5 Boston wiped off the map, for reference – more than half have died after safe and effective vaccines became available. Spin it the way you want, but it’s a total failure on every level.
Some are more guilty than others: the propaganda machine that turned elementary security precautions into a totalitarian socialist plot; the cynical politicians – hello Ron DeSantis – who tried to score “freedom” points by leaving thousands dead. But the guilt extends to those who have decided that treating the pandemic as a lifelong emergency is no longer a viable option. Life will go on. Overworked teachers and healthcare workers will just aspire.
This does not mean that these policy questions have easy answers. Classroom instruction is clearly better for most students than distance learning; it is also better for many parents, especially those who do not have the luxury of working from home or whose children depend on free meals provided by schools. Months of additional trade restrictions would also be economically cataclysmic unless the federal government (read: Joe Manchin) approves trillions of dollars in additional aid, and most governors would likely disagree in any way. way. And that’s not to mention the psychological weariness that envelops us.
So we got into a corner. Returning to normal will cost hundreds of thousands of lives – many of which (but, importantly, not all) belong to the very people who have spent the past two years arguing that we should ignore the pandemic – and would reduce us to hope the next inevitable variation is even smoother instead of the other way around. Few would call it good public health policy, but it is what our policy demands.
The pandemic has vividly illustrated a tension that dates back to the founding of the American experience: balancing individual rights with the needs of the community. Your right not to get vaccinated, to wear masks, to send your unvaccinated and unmasked children to school, and to force teachers to sit with them in confined and poorly ventilated rooms for eight hours a day, eating and drinking and carrying on as if nothing was right; against my right not to get sick, not to risk a breakthrough infection, not to see my family members become seriously ill, not to worry about my “elective” surgery to remove this mole on my back is postponed indefinitely because the hospitals are full, life will return to normal once everyone is vaccinated.
It’s about your right to think of yourself versus my right to think of everyone. Because our political system is fundamentally broken, selfishness wins out. As long as selfishness prevails, the pandemic is here to stay.
Stay connected with Detroit Metro Times. Subscribe to our newsletters and follow us on Google News, Apple News, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Reddit.