Biden should declare the pandemic is over, so Americans can return to normal lives.
by Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2022
It is manifestly clear that the panic phase of the Covid-19 pandemic has to end. The costs are too high.
I don’t mean end as a state of mind. The pandemic has to end officially, as a matter of stated public policy by the U.S. government.
President Biden needs to declare publicly that the pandemic phase of Covid is over so people can resume living in a reality not dominated by masks, tests or vaccines.
Daily life has been suspended since March 2020. It won’t be the same for years, as the virus and its mutations circulate indefinitely. But the daily routines of life need the freedom to reassemble as what they were pre-pandemic, rather than what people are putting up with now.
From the pandemic’s start, the relevant argument for the restrictions was to reduce the virus’s terrible lethality and its long-term physical effects and to protect the hospital system’s ability to manage the caseload.
Because the Omicron variant is so transmissible, the total number of deaths remains high. Meanwhile, hospital admissions and case numbers are falling at a rapid rate.
Those deaths are a tragedy, and the pressure on the hospital system and its employees is real. But neither is sufficient reason to grind on with the Covid status quo. The share of the population who are not vaccinated is a sociological issue that won’t be resolved with a forced march into a third year of pandemic panic.
The Covid status quo is that the virus is in our heads all the time—among family, in our schools, at work, in travel, in White House briefings, in lawsuits and beneath a waterfall of media coverage. We live in a state of low-grade anxiety.
School systems in many cities and towns are essentially in a state of ruin, with it impossible to deny that many children have learned little for two years as they bounced between classrooms and stared at small screens.
This newspaper just reported that teachers are abandoning the schools and taking permanent jobs elsewhere. One middle school teacher, Nicole Routon, who taught science for 13 years, summed up living inside the Covid panic: “Nothing is changing and everything is a problem. It’s a hard state to live in all the time.”
The seemingly unto-eternity extension of the Covid crisis is now doing more nonmedical damage to the country than the virus itself. Masking and testing have turned life into a Rubik’s Cube of detail and wheel-spinning decisions. What matters more, a negative or positive rapid-test result? When is the ideal time to test yourself? How long before you retest? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains in arcane detail how test to stay works in its “K-12 Transmission Science Brief.”
A social coarsening has taken place. People die without funerals or in-person memorials even now because of infection fear. Isolation has become its own pandemic. Untended friendships have eroded. Much of the country is now divided between mask dissenters and mask wardens.
Sure, we’d survive in some sense if the current Covid safety netting stayed up indefinitely. But the disorientations from normal life, which some can barely recall, are pushing coping strategies onto thin ice.
The Biden administration has blamed Covid for the crime spree, supply-chain collapses and inflation. As a partial explanation, they’re right. The virus and the policies in place around it have created massive dislocations across every phase of American life.
Coming out of a White House meeting between Mr. Biden and governors this week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke the unofficial consensus: Move to “where you’re managing this virus like you would other illnesses in our country.” In other words, if you get infected and don’t require hospitalization, go home, take an oral Covid antiviral such as Paxlovid, and come back to work when you feel better.
How do we get there? I’d go so far as saying we should let Joe Biden off the pandemic hook he hoisted himself onto by claiming he would “shut down the virus.” So long as the Biden administration’s numbers fall over Covid, they are going to keep running the clock with more patches like the Covid test-kit website. An unmistakable sign of policy exhaustion is that they’ve begun blame-shifting onto officials who are already trapped inside the administration’s own Covid “messaging” labyrinth. Mr. Biden’s approval ratings likely would rise, perhaps five points, if he did the following:
State from the Oval Office that the Covid pandemic in the U.S. is over.
Announce that the White House Covid-19 Response Team will transition from daily response to long-term virus management.
Declare that mandated policies related to masks, testing and vaccinations are no longer necessary. Restate his point that policy setting for virus mitigation should reside with the states.
As a needed political grace note, acknowledge the contribution of every appointed and elected federal officer who fought the pandemic the past two years.
Thank Anthony Fauci for his career of service to the nation and accept his retirement.
The pandemic has to stop. Mr. Biden knows that. He could fulfill his biggest promise to the American people by saying it’s over.
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