Opinion: CJ Opinion

COVID is here to stay, so let’s start dealing with it

It’s well past time to try a different approach with COVID, and the Omicron variant in particular. The mainstream media must adjust its reporting, as well, to reflect reality and, well, to infuse some common sense. To stop reporting the rise in cases and hospitalizations, because both are skewed and fundamentally inaccurate.

It’s one thing that these hourly, even minute-by-minute, media reports about ever-rising COVID cases perpetuate a fear-mongering culture that feeds a creeping national hypochondria. 

The First Amendment protects these mostly leftist outfits, no matter how wrong-headed or damaging that reporting turns out to be. But continuing to hurt businesses — those still operating, anyway — recovering from the draconian suppressions and lockdowns of two years ago is just plain irresponsible. Especially now, when we have so much new information about the virus, which will continue to morph, evolve, and devolve.

Hospitals are strained, to be sure, but what’s needed are comprehensive reports relaying pointed, contextual data about who’s getting sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID and, as a means to protect the vulnerable, why. 

The virus, in one form or another, is here to stay. Mandates — and, ugh, recommendations — for masks and social distancing, research is showing, are increasingly dubious. It’s also well past time for real debate among politicians and health experts, with disparate research, prognostications, and opinions, as opposed to the same handful of pedantic, doomsday virologists who eschew ideas or views contrary to their own.

Again, it’s well past time that common sense intervenes.

The U.S. seven-day average reached 140,576 people hospitalized with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, Jan. 11, more than the previous high recorded during the surge last winter, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data, the newspaper reported.

In North Carolina, as of noon Tuesday, 3,991 people were hospitalized with COVID, according to the state health department. That’s more than twice as many state residents hospitalized as of Dec. 11. The number of patients in intensive care has risen in that time — from 412 to 722 — but by a comparatively much smaller percentage, particularly when compared to the start of the pandemic two years ago, offering evidence that Omicron, though more infectious, causes milder symptoms.

Everyone who’s admitted to a hospital, for whatever reason — heart attack, broken bones, etc. — is tested for COVID, regardless of whether they’re symptomatic. That accounts for about half of all recorded COVID cases in hospitals, say health experts, according to myriad reports. 

Researchers at the John Locke Foundation, led by Jon Sanders, since spring 2020 have, as Sanders writes, “been trying to find out how many of North Carolina’s COVID-19 hospitalizations were for people whose COVID infection was so bad that it put them in the hospital … . It’s a distinctly different population from those who are in the hospital for an unrelated reason … .

Precisely.

“Among a near-record 514 COVID-19 patients in the Jackson Health System’s Miami-area hospitals Monday,” reports the WSJ, “an estimated 54% were admitted mainly for non-COVID-19 reasons, the system said. The rate hit 27% at the peak of the Delta surge in August, the system said.”

Sanders, in his piece, quoted a report and study by WRAL, which says, “Omicron is spreading so fast that even people showing up to the hospital for unrelated issues are testing positive for COVID-19 once they arrive.

“‘Some people who fall from ladders or get a heart attack or have to come in because of a gallbladder issue test positive,’ said Dr. David Wohl, infectious diseases specialist at UNC Health,” writes WRAL.

Earlier this month, Rob Arnott, writing in the WSJ, asked whether we should be trying to catch Omicron — rather than trying to avoid it — so as to advance the cause for herd immunity. Arnott, founding chairman of Research Affiliates, makes a compelling point.

“Omicron takes lives,” Arnott writes. “So does the flu. If antibodies to the Omicron variant are even 50% effective in reducing the risk of death from more-lethal variants, those antibodies could save far more lives than the virus costs. From a personal perspective, which is more likely, dying if I catch the Omicron variant, or dying from another, more lethal variant of COVID because I lack the Omicron antibodies? The answer isn’t as simple as our policy elite might suggest.”

Scientists and researchers Vivek Ramaswamy and Apoorva Ramaswamy take this a step further, saying, in a WSJ column, that policies designed to slow the spread of Omicron may create “a super variant that is more infectious, more virulent and more resistant to vaccines. That would be a man-made disaster. To minimize that risk, policymakers must tolerate the rapid spread of milder variants. This will require difficult trade-offs, but it will save lives in the long run. We should end mask mandates and social distancing in most settings not because they don’t slow the spread—the usual argument against such measures—but because they probably do.”

The authors lay out their scientific reasoning in esoteric terms, explaining, for instance, the differences between antigenic drift and antigenic shift toward making the argument to end mask mandates and social distancing in most settings … .
I won’t try to explain their reasoning here because I can’t, yet the principal points they make should be perfectly clear to all.

“Will relaxing restrictions come at the cost of more hospitalizations and deaths as the next variant starts to spread?,” they ask. “Perhaps, but it would reduce the risk of a worst-case scenario and greater loss of life in the long run.”

None of this is to discount the devastating effects of the virus. People are sick and missing work. Large companies and small businesses are suffering, from government action, from a shortage of workers — because of COVID and other reasons — and from personal loss.

“The tallies suggest that a new onslaught of patients is arriving at many hospitals that have been struggling with staffing shortages and heavy caseloads, forcing doctors, nurses, and responders to make even tougher decisions about who should get care,” says the WSJ.

“‘Somebody somewhere is calling 911, and they are waiting longer for an ambulance,’ Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for the Geisinger health system’s hospitals in Pennsylvania,” told the WSJ.

Testing sites are inundated with people, who are either sick, scared, or under duress from company protocols. At-home tests aren’t 100% reliable, and people may be contagious before, or even after, getting a negative result.

The Food and Drug Administration, PBS writes, said late last year that “preliminary research indicates [at-home tests] detect Omicron, but may have reduced sensitivity.”

“Meanwhile,” writes Arnott in the WSJ, “supply-chain disruptions, fear of hospitals, and delayed diagnoses collectively led to an additional 86,000 excess deaths from cancer, heart and lung disease, and stroke. In 15 weeks, through Dec. 18, these excess deaths — none from COVID — have risen by another 56,000.”

“Every death is a tragedy,” he writes. “Yet we all die eventually, so it is sensible to examine death from a cost-benefit perspective. … Let’s explore unconventional answers to end this protracted nightmare. I am not trying to catch Omicron. But I am not afraid: Catching it may very well reduce, not increase, my risk of dying from some future COVID variant.”