Time to abandon the zero COVID mindset
While the nation continues to watch the omicron variant work its way through the population, the debate over how to respond to the virus in the long term is getting more pointed.
Some will insist on lockdowns, restrictions, and mandates forever. Some will insist on no restrictions whatsoever – even refusing vaccines. Meanwhile, is states like Virginia, where the new GOP governor, Glenn Youngkin, has issued an executive order overturning a statewide mask mandate for school children, the pro- and anti- mask forces are taking their fight to the courts.
Between the extremes, and the court cases, and the rancor, however, is a debate worth having about moderate responses, and a return to normalcy (if not reason). And as Jeffrey Singer writes, that includes an understanding that COVID-zero is an impossible goal:
…as we have now experienced multiple times, not long after one surge of cases ebbs, a new variant emerges more contagious than the last. Despite the hubris and conceit of government and public health officials who thought they could stop it, this virus is becoming endemic.
It is part of the environment. Just like we need to accept there will never be a drug‐free society, so too we need to accept there will never be a COVID‐free world. The answer to both is harm reduction. As in the never‐ending war on drugs, a never‐ending effort to eradicate COVID inflicts too much harm on society.
The most effective harm reduction tools against the virus are vaccination and therapeutics. Vaccinations don’t completely protect against infection, but they dramatically reduce the likelihood of getting sick enough to go to the hospital and possibly die.
We’re a ways away from the endemic stage (depending on your source). But it is becoming clearer that COVID will be with us for a very long time, and we have to adapt to it. Recurrent panics, lockdowns, and upheaval…not to mention angry, zero-sum arguments over treatment and mitigation…will only create further problems. More vaccination, more therapeutics, more common sense. That’s the way forward.