Mass testing a great strategy - six months ago. Plus, Trump & vaccines; power of local journalism
By Gary Abernathy
Mass testing ‘a drop in the bucket’ in the covid tsunami
It’s difficult to understand the sudden urgency of providing covid testing kits to everyone, especially when the new omicron variant, while highly transmissible, has been the mildest form of the novel coronavirus, according to studies.
The New York Times reported just days ago that studies are confirming earlier suspicions that omicron is comparatively mild:
Three separate teams of scientists on two continents have found that Omicron infections more often result in mild illness than earlier variants of the coronavirus, offering hope that the current surge may not be quite as catastrophic as feared despite skyrocketing caseloads.
While the sheer number of omicron cases will, by extension, result in appreciable numbers of serious illness, encouraging everyone to get tested seems counterproductive. If tests are sent to homes, or made otherwise easily accessible to everyone, almost everyone will, naturally, take the test, if only out of curiosity. Then, a lot of people who are completely without any symptoms but discover they have covid will grow worried, show up at their local emergency room or flood the phone lines with questions even though they’re fine. In other words, encouraging everyone to get tested will increase unnecessary panic.
Instead, logic might suggest that we encourage people to get tested only if they think they have symptoms or need treatment. In fact, new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines announced this week — for those paying attention to them — say now that fully vaccinated and boosted people who are exposed to the virus “may not need to quarantine at all,” as CNN reported. The CDC also reduced quarantine guidelines in other circumstances.
Some will argue that the reason to get tested is to prevent spread to others. Isn’t that horse already out of the barn? Hasn’t covid — and especially the omicron variant — spread so fast that trying to contain it is wishful thinking? A Dec. 23 Reuters story makes that point, with a top health expert saying of Biden’s testing push, "Unfortunately, it’s late in coming and will be a small drop in the bucket compared to the tsunami of cases on the horizon."
Fortunately, the weaker omicron variant — weaker especially among the vaccinated — likely signals the beginning of the end of the pandemic. According to a story in The Oregonian based on various wire reports, omicron experiences from around the world lead experts to be optimistic. As one South African doctor put it, “The rapid rise of new cases has been followed by a rapid fall and it appears we’re seeing the beginning of the decline of this wave.”
The Biden administration is scrambling to come up with something to say it has contributed to the covid fight and save face for a president who, as a candidate, promised to end this. “I will take care of this. I will end this,” he promised. It seems that what he’s doing is too little, too late. The best advice remains to get vaccinated and, as soon as eligible, boosted.
Trump feted for promoting vaccines, as he has often done
It was interesting watching former president Donald Trump get some rare positive press for promoting vaccines recently. It was especially strange since Trump has always promoted the vaccines he helped make a reality.
As I noted in a Washington Post column last week:
Trump has often been unfairly maligned for not promoting the coronavirus vaccine. While he has refused to get behind mandates, a position he reiterated this week, he began touting the vaccines long ago. Back in February, Trump told attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to “go get your shot.” In March, he told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo, “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. … But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine, and it is something that works.”
Still, his appearance with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly and an interview with conservative pundit Candace Owens in which he promoted the vaccines drew media attention, along with praise from President Biden and his press secretary, Jen Psaki. Biden even, for once, gave the “previous administration” credit for rushing the development of the vaccines.
By the way, people are always saying to me that Pfizer took no federal money through Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” to develop its vaccine. While that’s technically true, Pfizer admits that it still benefited from the program. As CNN reported last year in a fact check:
…it was not accurate for Pfizer to suggest that it is operating entirely apart from Operation Warp Speed; the company has a major agreement to sell at least 100 million doses of its vaccine to the federal government, and Pfizer acknowledged in a Monday statement to CNN that it is in fact "participating" in Operation Warp Speed through this deal. Also, at least some independent experts say the Trump administration deserves partial credit for Pfizer's progress… Three experts told CNN that this purchase promise may have played an important role in expediting Pfizer's vaccine development process.
In other words, knowing it had a guarantee from the federal government to buy at least 100 million doses of its vaccine undoubtedly helped Pfizer to decide to risk its money on vaccine development. So let’s end the nonsense that “Operation Warp Speed” had nothing to do with Pfizer’s vaccine.
Manchin interview shows power of local journalism
My new Washington Post column out today promotes the importance and power of local journalism, using the great Hoppy Kercheval as an example. Hoppy is a longtime journalist and host of “Talkline,” a radio talk show in West Virginia carried statewide on 24 stations.
After Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) dropped the bombshell on “Fox News Sunday” that he was a “no” vote on the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better” legislation, it was on Hoppy’s show the next day that he let his unbridled feelings be known. As I pointed out:
On “Talkline,” which is based in Morgantown and carried statewide on 24 stations, Manchin said that Democratic Party leaders “figured surely to God we can move one person. Surely, we can badger and beat one person up. Surely, we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they’ll just say: ‘Okay, I’ll vote for anything, just quit.’ Well, guess what, I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive.”
I note that “Talkline” should be bookmarked by anyone interested in Manchin’s thought process. It’s where he goes to express himself to home state voters, letting his guard down to a greater degree than in national interview settings.
Over his years as a state legislator, secretary of state, governor and U.S. senator, no one has been a more consistent guest on “Talkline” than Manchin. After Manchin rocked the political world with his “Fox News Sunday” stunner, Kercheval immediately lined him up for the next day’s show. “You know, [Sen.] Bernie Sanders said Manchin was going to have to explain himself to West Virginians,” Kercheval told me. “Well, that’s what Manchin wanted to do. Joe Manchin is pretty in touch with his constituents. … I think he comes on my show because he’s very comfortable. He knows he’s talking directly to West Virginians.”
You can read the column here. Subscription may be required if you’ve exhausted your free articles for the month.
Post columnists choose pop culture that made an impact
Finally, to make it a Washington Post trifecta, the Post asked its columnists to share one book, TV show, movie, album, video game or other piece of culture, broadly defined, that had a big impact on them in 2021.
My choice was the Apple TV show “The Morning Show,” which tackled the #MeToo movement and cancel culture in general. As I concluded, “‘The Morning Show’ poses such questions without always providing definitive answers — and that alone makes it refreshing.”
You can read all the selections at this link.
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