Some Reassurance for COVID-Anxious Americans

US
People walk in Times Square, New York, N.Y., July 23, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

On the menu today: As two new polls show President Biden’s job approval still particularly lousy and a mood of fear, frustration, disappointment, and exhaustion setting in from coast to coast, it’s time for us to reassure the anxious that we’ve largely put the COVID-19 pandemic in our rear-view mirror.

It’s Time to Reassure an Anxious America

Let’s start with the natural follow-up to yesterday’s discussion of vaccines for kids and the need for an “off-ramp plan” for masking policies and other pandemic-driven restrictions.

This week, Quinnipiac offered a new round of brutal polling numbers for President Biden’s job performance, but the subsequent release of the poll’s survey questions on the mood of the country illuminated why so many Americans are souring on him:

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More than a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, an overwhelming majority of Americans (81 percent) do not expect life to return to normal in the U.S. anytime soon, as 26 percent say life will never return to normal, 32 percent expect it will take more than 1 year for life to return to normal, 23 percent say it will take about a year, 10 percent expect life to return to normal in about 6 months, and 4 percent say a couple of months,

Most Americans say they are disappointed (62 percent), followed by hopeful (50 percent), emotionally exhausted (46 percent), worried (43 percent), angry (41 percent), and indifferent (24 percent).

A CNBC poll released on Thursday offered a similar sentiment:

Just 41 percent of the public approve of Biden’s handling of the presidency, compared with 52 percent who disapprove. . . . A plurality of 47 percent of the public believe there will be a recession in the next year, up 13 points from when the question was last asked in 2019. . . . 46 percent say the economy will get worse in the year ahead, the most in the 13-year history of the poll and 79 percent judge the economy as just fair or poor, the most since 2014.

I suspect that Biden’s repeated pledge of, “I’m not going to shut down the economy, I’m not going to shut down the country, I’m going to shut down the virus” is ringing in people’s ears. We’re near the end of October. Biden has been president for nine months.

Now, if you’re of the conservative persuasion, you could look at those numbers and feel that this is good news; with the country’s mood so dour, the Democrats are likely to get crushed in the midterm elections, and who knows, maybe Terry McAuliffe will blow the Virginia gubernatorial election next month.

But all other things being equal, I’d really prefer it if Americans didn’t feel disappointed, emotionally exhausted, worried, or angry. We’ve been through enough in the past two years.

A country that is melting under self-doubt, anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, and intractable divisions is not one that is well-prepared to handle the problems, threats, and crises coming down the road. Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran are all probably giggling with glee right now.

Last night at the National Review Institute’s William F. Buckley Awards Dinner, NRI honored Adam Meyerson of the Philanthropy Roundtable and Leonard Leo and Eugene Meyer of the Federalist Society. All three gave excellent and inspiring remarks, but something Meyer said stuck with me. He emphasized the importance of doing everything you can to understand your opponent’s argument. He pointed out that if you do this, you’re more likely to think of your opponent as wrongheaded, but not evil. He said that you might learn something from your opponent. And he said that you are more likely, through reasoned debate and the clear exchange of views, to come to the truth.

Think about how many times we conservatives encounter a liberal or a progressive who doesn’t understand why we believe what we believe and just assume we’re evil and malevolent from the start. We allegedly want big corporations to own and run everything, even though many big corporations have wholeheartedly embraced the progressive agenda. We want voter ID because we want as few people to vote as possible. We want a strong and top-of-the-line military because we’re bloodthirsty warmongers. We want the government to spend less because we want people to suffer. We want school choice because we want to indoctrinate kids in religious schools. And so on and so forth.

If progressives understood what conservatives wanted and why they wanted it, the debate might not end, but it would likely be less angry and full of knee-jerk demonization. We want a free market because we think that it offers the most level playing field and gives the most people the most opportunities to thrive. We want voter ID because the system of one person, one vote requires assurances that someone isn’t voting multiple times. We want a strong and top-of-the-line military because that is more likely to prevent wars, not start them. We want to spend less because interest payments on our national debt are eating up a bigger and bigger chunk of the federal budget. And while some conservatives no doubt would like to maximize religious education, most of us want school choice maximized because we trust parents to make the best decisions for their kids and never want to see children trapped in a school system that is failing to educate them.

On COVID-19 we could mock people whom we deem as excessively worried about the pandemic. We could fume that so much of our national discourse is set by the most neurotic and anxiety-ridden people. We could seethe that so many Americans have decided that the highest civic value is to be considered the best rule-follower and enjoy becoming the hall monitors of our society, eagerly policing others for the position of their mask.

Or we could try to persuade these people that the pandemic is not the pervasive and deadly threat that terrified us when it shut down our society in March 2020, and that it’s okay to loosen our grip, relax, and go about enjoying our lives again.

America’s daily rate of new cases is half of what it was in mid September and less than a third of its peak in January. As I’ve been tracking for the past four weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations are declining rapidly in the southern states and going up in some of the northern ones; the Delta wave has passed through the south and is moving north — and credit those northern states for higher vaccination rates, meaning fewer of those who get infected need to go to the ER or intensive-care unit. There’s plenty of room in the overwhelming majority of hospitals from coast to coast; as of this writing, just 7 percent of the nation’s hospital beds that are being used are being used for COVID-19 patients.

For those who end up in the hospital, doctors have a lot more treatment options now than at the start of the pandemic — remdesivir, anti-inflammatory drugs such as dexamethasone and other corticosteroids, enoxaparin to prevent blood clots, tocilizumab, baricitinib, and a bunch of other ones with names that sound like Aztec deities. And of course, there are monoclonal-antibody therapies.

As of this morning, 96 percent of U.S. senior citizens have at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine; 79.2 percent of all U.S. adults, 77.4 percent of eligible Americans, and nearly two-thirds of all Americans have received at least one shot of a vaccine. Fifty million American kids will become eligible for vaccination soon, probably next month. As mentioned yesterday, it is exceptionally rare for a COVID-19 infection to send a child to the hospital, and almost unheard of for a COVID-19 infection to kill a child who did not already have serious health problems, usually involving the immune system.

By now, every adult has heard all of the assurances about the vaccines several times over and knows lots of people who got vaccinated. If they haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, it’s because they don’t want to, and they should be left to live with those risks and the consequences of their own decisions. Americans cannot force other Americans do something they don’t want to without enormous and lingering friction. This never works out well in the long run.

Throughout the year, the number of people attending sporting events, concerts, movie screenings, festivals, conferences, and other large gatherings has steadily increased. For two months, tens of thousands of people have attended college- and pro-football games, weekend after weekend, and those games haven’t become super-spreader events. Earlier this month, University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins, Ph.D., who tracks coronavirus trends nationwide, concluded that, “I’m not seeing a lot of COVID ramifications. When we see these full stadiums, it makes people feel nervous because we’ve been avoiding crowds for such a long time. But some of these outdoor events really are not the super spreader events that people have worried they’re going to be.”

If tens of thousands of people can get together and be safe, you don’t have to worry about the guy at the grocery store whose mask slips below his nose.

It is safe to go about our lives — particularly if you’re vaccinated.

ADDENDA: Observations on my first flight and business trip since the pandemic began: Flying is just about the same, including delays for a missing flight attendant and air-traffic-control delays. The only difference is that everyone wears masks. You must wear masks inside airports, so everyone inside the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport was masked as well. The Fairmont Hotel in Dallas is asking guests to wear masks in the common areas, and quite a few people do so, making me wonder if reports of the Texan rebellion against wearing masks is exaggerated. Or maybe the majority of guests are from more mask-friendly parts of the country.

As one person put it last night, “Welcome to Texas, where the weather is rough, but the government is beautiful. In California, it’s the opposite.” If Senator Ted Cruz’s numbers are right, the cost of renting and driving a U-Haul from San Francisco to Austin is now about five times the cost of renting and driving a U-Haul from Austin to San Francisco.

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