Much has changed since President Donald Trump invoked emergency powers to combat the spread of COVID-19. Immunity, whether natural or acquired through vaccines, is much more widespread, and breakthrough treatments are available.
While the disease may never be completely eradicated, it’s time to return to a public health policy that prizes individual liberty over government authority. Unfortunately, President Joe Biden remains unwilling to relinquish the emergency powers he has wielded since taking office.
Granted, he has eased some COVID-related restrictions, urging a return to workplaces, schools and public gatherings. And the Centers for Disease Control has agreed that most communities can drop indoor masking requirements.
But the Transportation Safety Administration still retains the mask mandate for air transportation, and the administration is seeking yet another round of “emergency” COVID-19 funding. It also has extended both the HHS public health emergency and a presidentially declared national emergency. And CDC continues to call on state and local officials to adopt “layered prevention strategies” -- including mask mandates -- based on the agency‘s assessment of “COVID-19 community levels.”
This approach to the pandemic is rooted in the administration’s unrealistic “zero COVID” policy goal. The only virus that was ever truly eradicated was smallpox -- and that took nearly 200 years.
It is now clear that lockdowns and mandates have failed to shut down the virus either here or abroad. Nor have vaccines. So what will? Neither the president nor his brain trust has offered any eradication strategies.
Going forward, the better policy path is for the administration to acknowledge that it cannot eradicate COVID-19, that it has likely joined the ranks of diseases with which we coexist.
Living with COVID-19 is not surrendering to the pathogen. It is government accepting reality and surrendering the extraordinary control it has exercised over the lives of 330 million Americans.
The Biden administration should begin by making it clear that the realities of March 2022 are nothing like the nightmare of March 2020.
The coronavirus is no longer novel. Thanks to medical innovations and natural immunity, many of our bodies can now recognize the pathogen and are far better positioned to combat it. As of mid-March, nearly 217 million Americans were fully vaccinated, 96.2 million had received boosters and an estimated 140 million people -- some of whom also were immunized -- had recovered from the virus.
Our statistical analysis indicates that those who decide to get vaccinated are at much lower risk of severe cases of COVID-19 than are the unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated people under the age of 50 are two to 40 times more likely to die from a homicide than COVID-19. When fully vaccinated, even older Americans -- those aged 65 and up -- are at much lower risk of dying from COVID-19 than from other ailments, including heart disease, cancer and chronic illnesses.
For those who opt not to get vaccinated, widely available antivirals are highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalizations. One of these products, an oral medication called Paxlovid, is 88 percent effective at preventing severe disease. Under the administration‘s “test to treat” initiative, people who test positive for COVID-19 at certain pharmacies will take the medicine home with them.
And for those who have already had COVID-19, natural immunity is as robust, if not more so, than immunity conferred from vaccines, according to CDC.
We can live with a virus whose worst effects are muted by immunity and antivirals, just as we live with other diseases that pose substantial threats to the elderly and medically vulnerable. None of that was true two years ago when the Trump administration initially issued the emergency declarations. Today, there is no need for those declarations to remain in force.
Rescinding them will have collateral effects. Higher Medicaid payments to states, for example, are linked to the emergency. State coffers are overflowing, and the tens of billions in additional spending is contributing to inflation. These payments should cease.
Other temporary provisions linked to the emergency, like telemedicine, should be extended. First widely deployed as an expedient when the government restricted non-emergent medical care, telemedicine has proved enormously popular. Congress should permanently authorize it.
Temporary policies linked to the emergency declarations should stand or fall on their own merits, but the states of emergency themselves should expire.
We can -- and must -- learn to live with COVID-19. And our president must learn to live with letting go of emergency powers that are no longer necessary or appropriate. Doug Badger & Kevin Dayaratna
Doug Badger is a senior fellow for domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation. Data scientist and Research Fellow Kevin Dayaratna is the think tank’s principal statistician. -- Ed.(Tribune Content Agency)