The pandemic debate mirrors our overall broken political dialogue. On one side, misinformed, and largely uneducated, people have thwarted every effort to stem the spread of COVID. On the other, hysterics and hyperbole threaten to do more harm than good, alienating people in the middle who just want to survive the pandemic and begin a return to normalcy. One side is so radical that they are literally killing themselves and the other is so irrationally frightened that they’re driving people away from an otherwise important cause. 

Right now, the anti-tax people have more responsibility for the spread of the disease and threats to hospitals than anybody. Before they were anti-vaxxers, they were anti-maskers. To hear them tell it, the government and public health officials are trying to kill them despite all evidence to the contrary. They are easily misled by facts and figures that get distorted by the likes of Fox News and conservative media. 

One method of deceiving people is to treat the pandemic as if vaccines never happened. Conservatives point to case and death rates in places like New York and Massachusetts where COVID arrived early before we had any mitigation practices and where large populations live in close quarters. For instance, comparing Mississippi to Massachusetts from February, 2020 until today, the states have similar death rates, with Massachusetts slightly higher. Compare them from February 2021, when vaccines became widely available, till today and Mississippi’s death rate is 80% higher than Massachusetts.

Other misleading numbers are current hospitalizations. In places like Minnesota where cases have been rising since cold weather set in a couple of months ago, hospitals are getting overwhelmed. About a third of those cases are vaccinated people, leaving anti-vaxxers pointing at the numbers as proof that vaccines don’t work. However, more than 60% of the population is vaccinated, so 40% of the population is making up two-thirds of the hospitalizations.

The conservative press is helping spread the disinformation about vaccines and few Republican elected officials are willing to push back. The anti-vaxxers are so dug in, they are dying to protect their cause. It’s like the election fraud. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re right and have a continuous flow of disinformation to back them up. 

On the left, hysteria is preventing the return to normal that we so desperately need. Progressives are demanding we keep regulations that are no longer needed and promoting government interference that people don’t want. They are driving a wedge between too many middle-class Americans who need to have kids in schools and not worry about getting laid off because of the virus.

Vaccines have worked, protecting all but the most vulnerable Americans from serious disease. Children, in particular, have almost nothing to worry about. More kids under 17 years die of pneumonia than COVID and yet, at school, we’re making them eat outside in freezing weather. To protect whom? Certainly not the children. Teachers who are vaccinated and in good health have little to fear. Those who are immunocompromised should probably not be in any setting that includes working with groups of people. 

And then there’s the fear of long COVID. While it’s a real thing, it’s also a vague thing. The symptoms include everything from sore throats to cognitive disorders with the most common seeming to be a general malaise. Studies show a little more than a third of people who have COVID suffer long-term consequences and almost 60% of those suffer them for more than three months after the initial infection, so it’s not insignificant. However, while more common among COVID patients, long-term symptom follow other virus infections such as influenza. Long COVID needs to be studied and addressed, but a study in England indicates only 1.7% of the population living in private homes self-reports as having long COVID symptoms. That’s a significant but small proportion of the population and not enough shut everything down.

Vaccines are the best defense against COVID and they are doing their job, even if we need boosters. Elderly people and people with compromised immune systems should probably take additional precautions, avoiding crowded areas and wearing masks indoors, especially when incidents of COVID are increasing like they are in a lot of places right now. 

But it’s not time for more regulations, especially on healthy people. We should allow local governments to take the lead. They are best equipped to deal with rapid spread. We need to keep the public informed and let people and businesses make their own choices. If they want to insist on masks, fine. If people want to avoid crowds, that’s fine, too. Let’s start moving toward a new normal instead running back into mass quarantine or lockdowns. We are going to be living with COVID just like we’ve lived with other diseases. Let’s figure out how to do it now.

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