The conversation on closing down large swathes the economy and daily life to contain the dual COVID-19 variant bombings of Omicron and Delta has become brittle. President Biden has stated repeatedly that the U.S. is not “in the shutdown business,” a sentiment echoed by many of his political allies as well as members of the business community.
Their hesitancy, although not scientifically responsible as it should, has its reasons. In-home learning was also instituted and schools were closed, causing severe financial losses. This caused a lot of distress among parents of young children. A right-wing political movement, which was formed in the wake of the previous shutdowns, has been threatening the very fabric and stability of democracy in the country. It is now joined with anti-vaccine conspiracists, allies of President Donald Trump, as well as other right-wing groups. These collective pressures could explode again if Biden decides to lock down certain parts of the country.
The shutdown decisions are being made to a large extent, despite the fact that many workers have tested positive and need to stay home. This makes many workplaces unable to function fully. “The question for Mr. Biden and his team,” reports The New York Times “is whether anything they are doing can help soothe the psyches of Americans as they brace for potentially more months of Zoom meetings, canceled sports games and masks.”
Today’s average number of COVID infections was 486,658, an increase of 239 per cent over the previous seven days. All this on the heels of the holiday season’s inevitable spike in infections, and with millions of children returning to school after winter break. It is a cocktail of disaster.
Hospitals across the nation are being hit by a flood tide in new infections among the unvaccinated and breakthrough cases among those who have received their shots. Omicron seems to be less effective for those who get infected despite being vaccinated. The outlook for those who refused to get vaccines due to right-wing political rallying calls is much more dire and has brought down the national health system to the brink. Nearly half the nation still hasn’t gotten the recommended three doses.
“US hospitals have been dealing with their own staffing setbacks as they faced a recent surge driven by the Delta variant,” reports CNN. “Now, with Omicron spreading rapidly, hospitals are further strained. ‘The hospital is full, the ICU is full, and of course at the same time we’ve lost 20, 25 percent of the overall staff in the hospital due to them getting sick and having to stay home and isolate,’ Dr. Anand Swaminathan, an emergency physician in New Jersey, said Sunday. Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and associate dean at the Brown School of Public Health, said it was difficult to describe the situation in her hospital’s emergency department, with doctors and nurses ‘at the end of their rope.’”
We are all at the end, and it is important to recognize this, as well as the danger it poses. We’ve allowed capitalism to be in the driver’s seat of our response since this began, and all that has gotten us is a steady diet of one step forward, three steps back.
Although we don’t yet need to lock down everything due to the vaccines and other better treatments, this tentative approach has failed and must be abandoned. We need to take bold and immediate action. This would include universally free testing. This would include both rapid at-home tests as well as PCRs. It would also include universally available and free gold-standard masks that are required in indoor public places. It would involve remote work and closures where appropriate, according to scientific recommendations, and subsidizing pay for people who can’t go to work. This would include arranging school and outdoor work in areas where it makes sense. Sensible vaccine and testing requirements, especially in relation to travel could go a long ways. The most recent and best COVID treatments should also be available. All hospitals. It is imperative that we take steps to end vaccine apartheid, and ensure universal access to vaccination.
“From the beginning, there have been a number of scientifically sound tactics to thwart this damnable thing,” I wrote back in November. “They were ignored during the last year of Trump’s tenure, and remain well behind where they should be under Biden. Those tactics are right in front of us, here and now…. These measures must be accompanied and/or locked down When they are necessaryThey should not be able to afford them financially. Science needs to drive the bus this time — science, and a genuinely effective push to vaccinate the entire world, cost be damned — and let the engine of greed idle for a while.”
The president must get on top of this and stop pleading with the capitalists for their help. We are running out of time. I fear we are almost out of time.