Almost as prompt as an Amazon delivery, a fresh form of COVID-19 has arrived just in time to disrupt another Christmas season. As news outlets blare warnings over the variant dubbed “omicron,” Americans are left with the task of sorting through the thicket of conflicting guidance. Beating the recurring fear and enjoying the holiday cheer requires resolute devotion to reason.
Speaking Monday to reporters from the White House, President Biden announced he has taken “immediate steps” to halt the “new threat”: “This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” With urgency, though, he added, “You have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot. You have to get the booster.”
If boosters are in order, Mr. Biden’s leadership could use one. His “concern” looks a lot like a variant of panic. Among the president’s moves is an immediate ban on travel from certain African nations, including South Africa, where the virus was first detected. When Donald Trump enacted similar restrictions on inbound flights from Africa in January 2020, though, then-candidate Joe Biden called the act “xenophobic.”
If Americans fail to treat the latest outbreak of pestilence with appropriate anxiety, the president may have himself to thank. Unaware of a nearby camera, Mr. Biden shopped maskless during his Thanksgiving holiday in a Nantucket store. Prominently displayed on the front door: “Face covering required.” Americans are not so naive that they can’t recognize Omicron optics when they see it.
The pandemic has lacked nothing in its capacity to invoke terror, but the outburst of hysteria over omicron could prove to be unwarranted. Public health professionals in South Africa have pointed out, in essence, that a wastebasket fire doesn’t warrant a five-alarm response. “It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well,” said South Africa’s medical chief Dr. Angelique Coetzee, adding, “Of those infected, some are currently being treated at home.” If her assessment is upheld elsewhere, seasonal influenza outbreaks would be more dangerous.
In the meantime, COVID-conscious Americans would be wise to rely on the guidance of their chosen medical professionals. Individualized advice factoring in age, pre-existing conditions and natural immunity owing to previous COVID-19 infection surely surpasses the prescriptions handed out by “Doctor Biden” when he plays the nation’s president-physician on TV.
Additionally, all should remain aware that the number of U.S. deaths attributed to the vaccines — 7,437 — exceeds the 5,129 deaths associated with all other vaccines combined since 1990, according to the government’s own Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. It is a cautionary factor that doesn’t seem to rate a line on the president’s teleprompter.
As the Biden Omicron optics threaten to cast a pall over Christmastide, it is smart to remember that reason is always in season.