Omicron is here, and with it comes death and destruction — unless, that is, you cancel Christmas, hide in your homes, get all the boosters, double mask, and demand to see negative Covid tests and proof of vaccination for anyone who darkens your doorstep. Any precautions, no matter how seemingly outlandish, are seen as justifiable to protect yourself from this new and terrifying variant.
So it is, anyway, with a disturbingly large number of reporters and commentators in the corporate press, whose coverage and individual responses to Covid have become increasingly divorced from that of the rest of America. To watch CNN or read The New York Times, you’d think omicron was the most deadly strain of the virus to date, poised to overwhelm hospitals and leave a trail of death behind it.
The reality, which most Americans have readily grasped, is just the opposite: omicron appears to be the least dangerous strain of the virus yet. After five weeks of omicron’s spread in South Africa, where the variant first appeared, the news is encouraging: mild to nonexistent symptoms, hospitalization rates nine times lower than previous surges, and extremely low rates of severe illness and death even though only about a quarter of the population is vaccinated. Here in the United States, only one person has died from the omicron variant thus far, even though omicron cases accounted for nearly three-quarters of new infections nationwide last week.
Rather than return to lockdowns and school closures — to say nothing of canceling holiday gatherings — there’s every reason to believe we’ll be able to weather this surge with minimal disruption.
Unless you’re a member of legacy media. In that case, you’re probably going to cancel your own birthday party like The Atlantic’s Ed Yong did, even though all his birthday guests were vaccinated and boosted, and probably would have been tested before showing up at his house. But no, it was just too great a risk.
Yong, you see, covers science. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Covid. He’s written too many stories about the pandemic to be dissuaded by mere data about omicron. For him, isolation, masking indoors, and eating outside are normal and necessary, and really what everyone should be doing.
He’s not alone. Former GOP communications director and CNN contributor Tara Setmayer blurted out on Twitter last week that she hadn’t been on a plane or gone to a movie since March 2020, and has only eaten indoors twice this entire time, even though her family is vaccinated and boosted.
This isn’t a healthy or sane response to the pandemic, especially not after nearly two years of Covid. Judging by how busy airports and movie theaters and restaurants are across the country, it’s also not normal. It’s borderline psychotic. Only people who have convinced themselves that the worst thing that could happen to them is get Covid would go to these absurd lengths.
Yet that’s exactly what many Twitter blue checks have done. CNN’s Chris Cillizza confessed on Twitter last week that the omicron surge has really hit him hard because it made him realize, for the first time, that “the vaccines don’t, really, prevent you from getting the virus,” and that they “can never do what I had hoped: Ensure no one I loved will become infected.”
Imagine being so impervious to reality — to say nothing of science and data, or even just stories about Covid in the news — that you’d still think, in December 2021, that the Covid vaccines could prevent all your loved ones from getting infected. I know we all joke about how bad Cillizza’s takes are, but come on.
It would be one thing if this insanity were confined to the Acela corridor, but it’s not. Thanks to the hysterics of our media elite, a certain segment of the American people have lost their minds over Covid and essentially become some version of the mask-sealed-with-surgical-tape, “Shitton of Xanax” lady:
Now, where would this poor woman get the idea that all this is necessary to protect her from the omicron variant? Maybe she read Washington Post health reporter Dan Diamond’s latest column, in which he warns his readers not to expect a mild case of Covid from the omicron variant, to “brace yourself” for a positive test even if you’re vaccinated, to “expect hospitals to be pushed to their limits,” and to “upgrade your mask and think twice about taking risks.”
Understand that none of this advice has much to do with the science or data we have so far on omicron. Indeed, the South African doctor who first reported the omicron variant wrote earlier this month that she was “astonished by the extraordinary worldwide reaction” to the new strain of Covid, which she says is “out of all proportion to the risks posed by this variant.”
That reaction is being pushed by a small cohort of elite journalists and talking heads who live in large cities in the northeast, and whose entire approach to Covid and the pandemic are way out of step with the rest of the country. What’s more, their fear-driven approach hasn’t yielded better outcomes. Places that have imposed draconian lockdowns and school closures have fared no better (and sometimes worse) than places that have remained mostly open.
It’s time — long past time — to stop listening to these people.