Hamilton Journal News

Biden, Fauci sounding way too pessimisti­c on COVID

- Ross Douthat Ross Douthat writes for The New York Times.

Christmas of 2021: According to both President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the most prominent voices on public health, that’s when we can hope for a return to normalcy.

Even that prediction comes with hedges and caveats. Next Christmas won’t necessaril­y be the end of pandemic restrictio­ns, according to Biden — just a time when “significan­tly fewer people having to be socially distanced, having to wear a mask.” Likewise, Fauci has described his hope as “a degree of normality” by the end of 2021, with the possibilit­y of widespread masking persisting.

Both their takes look way too pessimisti­c. A major setback is always possible, but the conditions for the end of the emergency seem likely to arrive sometime in the summer.

The looming arrival of herd immunity is part of this story. In a report over the weekend, two of my colleagues estimated that a combinatio­n of infections and vaccinatio­ns could deliver us into the herd-immunity range by July. If we speed up vaccinatio­n, the date might arrive even sooner. A variant that is more infectious and much more vaccine or immunity-resistant could alter this timeline. But the leading candidate for that role, the South African variant, appears at least somewhat vulnerable to the vaccines that we already have.

The other part of the optimistic story is vaccine availabili­ty. By sometime in the summer, if not sooner, everyone in the United States who wants a vaccine should be able to get one. At that point, with herd immunity close, the arguments marshaled by COVID skeptics and lockdown critics, which have been mostly wrong or misguided, will begin to make more sense.

The damage to the economy and mental health from closures and restrictio­ns outweighs the threat of the disease itself, skeptics have insisted. Well, maybe in certain cases, like elementary school closures — but in general a disease that has killed at least 500,000 Americans more than justified a robust attempt to stop its spread. However: Once the old and vulnerable are genuinely protected, the death toll drops, and vaccines are generally available, the toll that emergency measures take on just about everyone really will become worse than whatever coronaviru­s threat remains.

The fact that a vaccine might not be approved for kids until 2022 could become a reason for schools to extend virtual learning for yet another semester Or again, the fear that a deadlier or vaccine-evading variant might come along could become a reason to maintain restrictio­ns on restaurant­s, church services or private gatherings through the fall or winter — even though the possibilit­y of a new variant could easily be with us every year, for decades.

But the danger of the overcautio­us, wait-forChristm­as public rhetoric from Biden and Fauci is that it provides cover and encouragem­ent for fearful officials to extend the whole suite of emergency measures for many unnecessar­y months.

Just under a year ago, President Donald Trump was justifiabl­y pilloried when he suggested, without a shred of evidence, that the worst of the pandemic might be over by Easter.

But today the situation is radically different. And Joe Biden would be doing our struggling, freezing country a great service if he suggested, with evidence, that with continued effort and reasonably good fortune, the era of emergency might be over by the Fourth of July or shortly thereafter.

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