Talking Points

When the latest COVID wave arrives, do nothing

You've no doubt heard about it: A new COVID wave is coming. The Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 has already led China to shut down whole cities to stop the spread while also raising alarms in South Korea and across Europe and the United Kingdom, where case numbers are spiking once again.

That means it will probably start spreading more widely, sending case counts surging, in the United States very soon. What should we do when it does?

The answer is: Nothing.

Okay, maybe that's going a mite too far. It would certainly be nice if we had enough tests and therapeutics available to help us to protect the most vulnerable of our family members and neighbors. But we've been aiming for and falling short of this goal for a long time now. If the latest wave motivates the government to get its act together, great.

Then there's some uncertainty around the subvariant itself. It appears to spread quite a bit faster even than the already highly contagious original Omicron strain (BA.1). But will it lead to more hospitalizations and deaths? There's no sign of that yet, but because of the lag time between positive test results and the worst consequences of infection, we probably won't be sure for a few more weeks.

But if BA.2 proves to be no more deadly than BA.1, our path forward is clear: We should go right on living without imposing or having to endure restrictions on behavior.

As we learned with the original Omicron wave, people who are vaccinated and have received a booster shot are very well protected. Some caught COVID, but usually a mild case that resembled a cold or mild flu. Within a week or so, symptoms were gone. That's more of a nuisance than a life-threatening event warranting the imposition of restrictive public-health measures.

But what about rising numbers of deaths? Despite a drastic drop in new cases over the past two months, more than a thousand Americans are still dying every day of the Omicron variant. How can we just sit back and watch those numbers rise higher yet again while doing nothing?

Those deaths are a genuine, appalling tragedy — in no small part because in the vast majority of cases, they are preventable. Several highly effective vaccines are widely and easily available. To avoid serious illness and death, Americans need only take advantage of this extraordinary achievement of medical science. If they choose not to do so, they have to live (and possibly die) with the consequences.

The rest of us don't need to.

Get vaccinated. Get boosted. And then get on with your life. As long as mRNA shots continue to work, that's the recipe for living with COVID. Nothing about the latest looming wave is likely to change that.