Speed Reads

omicron is here

Is America's Omicron playbook strong enough?

A new COVID-19 variant has arrived, and like with other strains before it, America's attack strategy is half-baked, Ed Yong argues in The Atlantic.

Why? Because societally, Yong writes, "policy makers have already cut themselves off from the tools needed to protect the populations they serve" — things like quarantines and mask mandates. Boosters might offer reasonable protection against infection, but only 17 percent of Americans have received them, and now, many are struggling to make appointments. People from rural, low-income, and minority communities will likely experience the greatest delays.

The Biden administration has also opted to make rapid tests reimbursable through health insurance rather than distribute the tests "en masse," which "doesn't address the need where it is greatest," medical geographer Arrianna Marie Planey told Yong; low-wage workers, who deal with a higher risk of infection, "are the least able to afford tests up front and the least likely to have insurance."

And though control measures used for other variants — "masks, better ventilation, contact tracing, quarantine, and restrictions on gatherings" — should, in theory, work for Omicron too, "the U.S. has either failed to invest in these tools or has actively made it harder to use them."

America can't rely on just vaccines to get us out of the pandemic, Yong says. The U.S. attack arsenal must be strengthened with provisions like paid sick leave, stronger masks, improved ventilation, isolation capabilities, and "ways of retaining the frayed health-care workforce." Instead, however, we have "consistently dropped the ball" on many of these measures, neglecting to "build systems and enact policies that protect the health of entire communities" in favor of moving shot to shot.

"Self-interest is self-defeating," Yong argues, "and as long as its hosts ignore that lesson, the virus will keep teaching it."