COVID is not going away, and optimism is not a plan . . .

Here is what Biden said about omicron in December:

“We’re looking ahead to a brighter and happier December,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday. He ticked through a list of actions by his administration that he said would help ensure fully stocked shelves in groceries and retailers through the holidays.

Asked by reporters if he was worried that the Omicron variant, which officials announced later in the day had been detected in California, would threaten that progress, the president was undeterred.

“I’m an optimist,” he said.

Now we get this from Joshua Gans on a new omicron variant:

Where BA.2 has been measured, it appears to be 1.5 times as transmissible than BA.1. That’s a lot. Omicron was already Omicron, the most transmissible virus since the Measles that ripped across the world in mere months and was responsible for the “all my friends have Covid” feeling. 50% more transmissible than that which means in terms of growth it can replace BA.1 within weeks. This is precisely what has happened in Denmark and now is happening across the rest of Europe. It could be elsewhere but they aren’t really looking.

It is really hard to fathom that there will be any escaping this one. Epidemiologists are worried that the seeming peaking over the Omicron wave may be very short-lived.

. . . Now we have evidence that reinfection with Omicron is not only possible but can happen quite quickly. Omicron is 5 times more likely to have reinfection than Delta. What’s more, there appears to be waning immunity in just 10 weeks. All this is just preliminary but it weighs against fatalism and towards something far more worrying.

There is a chance, hopefully still a low one, that you may get Omicron again and again over the next year while it continues to circulate in such high quantities. That might mean nothing in terms of symptoms but it is hard to know. It could also mean continual bouts of illness. You may not end up hospitalised but you don’t want the flu every three months either.

President Biden’s optimistic take on COVID-19 is dangerously short-sighted.  What is he going to say if BA.2 leads to a surge in cases this spring?  What is he going to say if a lethal new variant evades the existing vaccines?  What will he say if there is a COVID wave in the fall due to fading immunity?  If COVID continues to kill significant numbers of people and to disrupt daily life – which has always been a real possibility – Biden and the Democrats will be far more vulnerable to ads attacking his naïve optimism and failed promises on COVID than critical race theory, inflation, or any other issue Republican operatives and campaign consultants dream up. 

The President needs to get ahead of this.  He can project optimism while still planning for contingencies and setting reasonable expectations for what life will be like with endemic COVID.  This means making a major speech discussing the progress that has been made, but also noting that COVID is not going away, and asking Congress for $50 or $100 billion for vaccine development and production, development and production of new treatments and anti-virals, increased testing capacity and production of high-quality masks for people who are vulnerable, etc., etc.  This is obviously the right thing to do policy-wise.  It is also essential politically. 

Yes, there is a bipartisan bill kicking around Congress.  So what?  President Biden asked for a major investment in pandemic preparedness that got left on the cutting room floor.  He needs to own this issue.  He needs to show a sense of urgency on this and blame Republicans for foot dragging.