Analysis: How the Omicron variant ignited new battles and changed pandemic politics
After two years of spiteful partisan feuds over the crisis, new fighting breaks out across the country.
- The White House on Tuesday gave up the fight for its rule mandating vaccines and testing for employees of large corporations after the conservative Supreme Court struck down it, removing one of President Joe Biden’s key weapons in the fight against Omicron and any future variants.
- And one of the original disruptors of the modern GOP, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, made headlines after she allegedly flouted Manhattan’s vaccination mandates at an indoor restaurant — and then tested positive for the virus, delaying The New York’s defamation trial has times that had led them to the city.
A characteristic feature of conservatism
The pandemic was always destined to shower oil on America’s scorched-earth policy. In no other Western country is the struggle between state power and individual rights so acute. It was in America’s DNA even before the revolution, and has been steadily exacerbated by the extremities of a two-year crisis since Trump denied the true danger of the virus and sought to open up the entire country at the height of its deadly first wave.
The dispute over the Covid 19 precautions has now become a defining feature of the conservative movement. It channels the passionate opposition to governance and hatred of East Coast elites — in this case public health officials — that have long ignited Trump’s base. That means any GOP politician with ambitions in presidential politics must contend with the party’s most ardent supporters by adopting their pandemic dogma such as opposition to masking, skepticism about vaccines, and claims to tyrannical federal power.
The willingness of Republican up-and-comers like DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and now Youngkin to play before the conservative media gallery on the pandemic has boosted careers. But it is also a path that has cost thousands of lives. Most patients currently dying from the Omicron variant are unvaccinated. And data shows the risk of dying from Covid-19 is higher in red states.
But if the Omicron wave becomes the final outbreak of the pandemic, the cost of political leaders who resist government and public health guidelines for partisan reasons is also expected to come down. And Republicans looking to higher office may be even more tempted to earn points that can be redeemed in future primary elections.
A new risk calculation
The latest infection variant has also introduced a new dimension to pandemic policy.
Generally less deadly for the fully vaccinated and boosted, but far more transmissible, Omicron has blurred the ideological lines on pandemic preparedness. As the new political strife plays out and elected officials try to keep their healthcare systems from being overwhelmed, Americans are reaching for a sweet spot of acceptable risk.
Many people – at least those without young children who are yet to be vaccinated – are taking a second look at the strict anti-Covid-19 regimes and the limits they have placed on their behavior outside the home. The partisan divide between liberals, who are more likely to adhere to government restrictions, and conservatives, who constantly push to abolish them, may be less pronounced. And parents’ desperation to keep schools open after two years of having their children’s childhoods ripped away lends an even more emotional note to the issue of masking in schools — on both sides of the ideological divide.
Republicans aren’t the only ones playing off the political ramifications of a pandemic the president had hoped would be history by now after vowing to shut down the virus as a candidate. Biden and his Democrats’ hopes for the fast-approaching November midterm elections may rest on a rapid economic turnaround after months of Covid-related growth slowdowns and inflation spikes. Only an unexpectedly quick return to normal this summer will allow Biden to dodge attacks from Republicans who are exploiting public exhaustion from the virus and its economic setback as part of an electoral argument that the president and his party are out of touch and incompetent.
A Covid-19 showdown in the Sunshine State
DeSantis’ opposition to federal government public health advice has likely made him a top contender for the field in the 2024 Republican presidential election — if Trump doesn’t run and assumes the governor will win his own re-election race this year. On Monday, he slammed the Biden administration after the US Food and Drug Administration revised emergency use authorization for two monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19. The move effectively meant the therapies could not be used as they were found to be less effective against Omicron, which causes almost all infections in the US.
But DeSantis, who has consistently prioritized politics over science during the pandemic cited by federal officials, claimed the decision was made “without a shred of clinical data” and deprived Floridians of effective treatments. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki hit back, accusing DeSantis of being part of a cadre of right-wing politicians and social media commentators promoting pseudoscience.
“Let’s just take a step back just to realize how crazy this is,” Psaki told reporters Tuesday.
“What the FDA is clarifying is that these treatments … which the governor is fighting over — do not work against Omicron and have side effects,” she said. “We sent them 71,000 doses of treatments that work against Omicron and also against Delta, and they’re still endorsing treatments that don’t work.”
Former senior White House adviser on the Covid response Andy Slavitt warned Tuesday on CNN’s Newsroom that DeSantis’ recent stance is “consistent with the kind of quack chair medicine politicians have been using during the pandemic.” have practiced”. He also slammed the Florida governor for not doing more to advocate booster injections – which are unpopular with sections of the conservative base, despite Trump having spoken out in support of them and increasing the likelihood of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 19 significantly reduce.
Quarrel in New York
A stay granted by a judge, allowing New York’s indoor mask mandate to remain in effect temporarily, could help clear up some confusion over the state’s change in coronavirus containment measures. Hochul introduced the rule requiring masks indoors across the state as part of intensive efforts to slow the spread of omicron. A judge ruled Monday that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services had no authority to issue such a mandate without the consent of the state legislature. But New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a motion to stay the sentence. Further court hearings on the case will take place on Friday.
Meanwhile, the controversy over Palin’s visit to New York added another partisan twist to the dispute over governments’ power to regulate the individual behavior of American citizens.
The former Alaska governor was spotted eating at a restaurant called Elio’s in Manhattan on Saturday – something the restaurant’s manager, Luca Guaitolini, confirmed to CNN. Current New York City guidelines require those over the age of 12 to be vaccinated to dine indoors. CNN has reached out to an attorney for Palin to comment on the claim that she ate indoors without being vaccinated. But so far there has been no reaction. The case has raised questions about whether restaurant owners are properly checking vaccination status. Guaitolini told CNN he wasn’t working on Saturday, but the manager on duty told him he checked 150 to 200 vaccination cards that night.
Biden admits defeat
In another development, Biden on Tuesday withdrew the vaccination and testing order blocked by the Supreme Court earlier this month.
The regulation required companies with 100 or more employees to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear face coverings at work. Conservatives have criticized the regulation as an encroachment on individual liberties and an unnecessary hindrance to businesses themselves. Biden had seen the new rule as his best hope of finally getting vaccine skeptics to get their shots and end the pandemic.
But in a major victory for the Conservatives, the Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Agency had overstepped its powers. The ruling was the latest sign of how the right-wing majority enshrined by Trump on the nation’s top bench could reshape American life and how the Covid-19 crisis is setting precedents for the extent of the president’s authority in a national emergency.