As even Democratic governors race to ease face mask and vaccination requirements, and the number of new COVID-19 cases plummets, one might reasonably ask: Is it over?
Public health officials offer a variety of answers. But on the personal level, each of us is fashioning our own private policy.
I'm truly done with the coronavirus. But is the virus done with those I care about, to which I'll add me?
I am triple vaccinated and circulate among mostly vaccinated people, so I don't worry much anymore. If I have a breakthrough infection, especially from the omicron variant, it is almost certain to be mild, if noticed at all.
I will continue to wear masks without complaint on airplanes, buses and trains. And I'll do so voluntarily in crowds of people. It has come to my attention that ever since this masking business began, I haven't caught a cold, much less the flu.
At the same time, I am very tired of having to wear masks in uncrowded stores. That said, even when I disagree with these policies, I follow them to make life easier for the workers tasked with enforcing them. People who harass these stressed employees are jerks.
Some health officials say, wait a minute. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain high, and about 2,000 Americans still die from it every day. But the vast majority are unvaccinated, which makes their illness and death self-inflicted. This is not early 2020, when vaccinations were harder to come by.
Peter Hotez, head of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College in Houston, is not as relaxed. He warns that another wave may hit the South and Texas this summer. "It could be just like 2020 and 2021," Hotez told The Houston Chronicle. (It can't be a coincidence that the South and Texas have relatively low rates of vaccination.)
"I'm hearing the messaging, 'It's starting to look like the flu,'" Hotez said. "To me that all becomes an excuse for inaction." The action he prescribes is vaccinating the world.
Is the massive wave of omicron infections creating some kind of herd immunity? Hotez is not sure. How long any protection afforded by the weaker variant will last remains an open question. Also, the low vaccination rates in poorer Asian and African countries create opportunity for other variants to arise.
The politics of this matter, because Democratic leaders are more aggressive about getting their population vaccinated. That is the best way out of this. But the groans provoked by such White House pronouncements as, "The president's goal is to defeat the virus" (press secretary Jen Psaki last month) are going to hurt Democrats.
A Cygnal poll of swing states found their voters are more worried about how COVID-19 might hurt the economy than how it might hurt their health. Another poll, from Monmouth University, has half the respondents saying they fear catching the virus but 70% thinking it's time to accept its presence and move on.
The Democratic governors of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and New York are backing exit strategies for bringing daily life back to normal. Requiring masks in schools stopped making sense some time ago. The coronavirus causes very little serious illness among young children.
Look, the threat posed by the coronavirus is currently low among people who've gotten their shots and high among those who haven't. Today, each of us may decide whether we obtain protection from a vaccine and how we approach crowds, masked or unmasked.
We may not "defeat" the virus anytime soon, but the vaccinated majority can feel they've "contained" it. For them, the pandemic may be over. For the others, maybe not.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
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