The pandemic has changed. The virus has changed. But, for many people who have scoffed at the danger posed by the virus since it emerged here 2½ years ago, their rhetoric has not changed. And now that the omicron BA.5 subvariant appears to be less lethal, they claim they were right to dismiss the risk or the need for preventative measures all along.
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There has been a lot of analysis of the omicron variant since its appearance less than a year ago. The BA.5 subvariant is even newer and research on its effects is limited, but not non-existent.
So let’s look at an easily digestible metric: reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for each phase of the pandemic. Since BA.5 has only recently become the most common subvariant, we will group it together with the BA.2 subvariant.
You can see below that the relative number of hospitalizations and deaths during the period when the BA.2/BA.5 subvariants were most prevalent in the United States is lower than that of previous iterations of the virus. . Yes, hospitalizations per reported case are up below BA.2/BA.5 – but that’s largely because people are reporting fewer cases. A milder version of the virus means more people not going to clinics for official testing, which means fewer reported cases. If we look at the death to hospitalization metric – comparing two quantifiable things – we see that the ratio of deaths to hospitalizations in this new phase is the lowest yet.
It’s not definitive, but it reinforces what experts understand: BA.5 appears to be less lethal than past variants and subvariants.
Of course, there are many complicating factors. Vaccination continues to prove an important factor in reducing the worst outcomes of the virus. In New York, for example, it has always been the case that the hospitalization rate for the unvaccinated is about seven times higher than for the vaccinated. omicron subvariants appear to better evade infection protection offered by vaccines and masks, but there is no evidence that high-quality masks and vaccines offer Nope protection.
What we have seen over the past 30 or so months is evolution at work. A virus that is better able to evade vaccine protection is a virus that is better able to spread. A virus that is less likely to kill you is also less likely to spread to others. The virus has changed; the most suitable version has survived.
But the pandemic in the United States is hopelessly tied to politics. This is partly because of a conscious decision made by Donald Trump in his early days. Eager to win re-election, he has sought to reduce the economic disruption posed by the virus. So he dismissed the obvious danger, suggesting that the virus would simply disappear. He rejected mask-wearing largely because it indicated the risk was not minimal. It was a visible reminder that things were still not settled.
Trump was so good at instilling skepticism about the virus that what he hoped would be a political triumph – the rapid emergence of vaccines that could reduce the risk of infection or death – was disproportionately dismissed by his base. as leftist alarmism. The result was that deaths in the second year of the pandemic occurred largely in places Trump won in 2020.
All the more reason, then, for Trump’s allies to pretend they were right all along, as many do. At an event in Florida on Tuesday, Governor Ron DeSantis (right) suggested not only that his laissez-faire (let-cough?) approach to the pandemic was appropriate, but that those advocating preventative measures were lacking some kind of sincerity.
“People would put a mask and a syringe on their Twitter profile and that was, like, their identity. And it was ridiculous,” he said. said. “They lied to us about MRNA injections. They said, if you take it you won’t get covid. It’s wrong. That’s not true.” He went on to say that people who had multiple booster shots were at “deadly risk of getting it.”
DeSantis does three things here. Working backwards:
- He mixes up boosted infected people with stimulated those particularly at risk of infection. It’s just not true; all available evidence continues to suggest that up-to-date vaccinations significantly reduce the risk of severe disease.
- Governor claims ‘they’ lied about mRNA vaccines being great at blocking infection. It’s common rhetoric, but we don’t know where it comes from. Vaccines box prevent infection, certainly. This is one of their goals, and clinical trials have shown it to be. But pretend he would have prevent infection, universally? What scientist or official in the Trump or Biden administrations said that?
- DeSantis may think it was ridiculous for people to show support for preventative measures. It’s consistent with his rejection of the idea that the community should be encouraged to take action to counter the virus, certainly. But it also reflects his longstanding insistence on “masks have not reduced the spread,” which is simply not true. You need a better mask to block a more contagious variant, but, again, that’s just scale change, not effect.
DeSantis is running for re-election this year (and, if not officially, for president in 2024) as the guy who rejected the coronavirus consensus. It’s rhetoric, a clumsy effort to portray his opponents as out of touch with the realities of the pandemic. But when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have relaxed their guidelines, it’s usually (but not entirely!) because the nature of the virus has changed. DeSantis dismissed the recommendations that helped save lives below the Delta (where Florida has been particularly hard hit) and hasn’t moderated his arguments at all since.
Imagine walking up to a caveman 50,000 years ago and telling him he should just let a wolf live in his house. Wolves are not dangerous, insist on him, and trying to keep the wolf out is impossible anyway. Live your life as if the wolves weren’t there! Most people who get bitten won’t die, after all. And someday soon, when it might be warmer, they’ll move away.
Fifty thousand years pass. In fact, we now share our homes with evolved and less dangerous wolves: dogs. There is a low risk of having a dog, and very, very few people are killed by dogs. The situation has changed. Doesn’t mean your caveman-era argument was any good.
“Time and time again,” DeSantis said Tuesday, “I think you’ve seen ideology placed above data and evidence.”
Absolutely true. Unfortunately, this trend likely contributed to the disproportionate number of covid-19 deaths in Trump’s voting areas.