Tuesday ReadsPosted: December 21, 2021
Happy Winter Solstice!!
When will there be good news? I feel as if I’m living in the apocalypse. In just a couple of weeks, the latest Covid-19 variant has become dominant in the U.S. Once again, new cases are rapidly rising even in fully vaccinated and boosted people. Hospitals are running out of beds and health care workers are overworked and exhausted. Democrats are in grave danger of losing the House and possibly the Senate to Republicans who have lost touch with reality. And, as we all know, Joe Manchin has dashed Democrats’ hope of passing a bill that would have made everything better for Americans who aren’t in the top 1 percent. Can you tell I’m discouraged? Here’s what’s happening:
Covid-19, Omicron Variant
Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week.
In much of the country, it’s even higher. Omicron is responsible for an estimated 90% or more of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. The national rate suggests that more than 650,000 omicron infections occurred in the U.S. last week.
Since the end of June, the delta variant had been the main version causing U.S. infections. As recently as the end of November, more than 99.5% of coronaviruses were delta, according to CDC data.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the new numbers reflect the kind of growth seen in other countries….
Much about the omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.
“All of us have a date with omicron,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”
Craig Spencer at The Atlantic: Omicron Will Overwhelm America’s Emergency Rooms. Hospitals are already strained and many health-care workers have little left to give.
Like most of my colleagues, I haven’t arrived at this moment unscathed. I weathered the brutal first wave of the pandemic, often witnessing more COVID deaths during my shifts in New York City than I saw working in an Ebola-treatment center in West Africa in 2014.
When I was vaccinated against COVID a year ago, I was already exhausted. But better times seemed close at hand. Perhaps soon we wouldn’t have to endure wearing full personal protective equipment for hours on end. I was wrong.
After two years of dealing with this virus—working extra shifts, watching families sob on grainy FaceTime calls while their loved ones slipped away—many health-care workers are already in a dark place. With a new wave of COVID upon us, we face this grim truth: You can’t surge a circuit that’s been burned out. For frontline providers, there’s simply no new fuse that can fix the fact that we’re fried.
Many people are holding out hope for the possibility that the Omicron variant may cause less severe disease. But this is little comfort for those worried about our hospitals and the people who work there: A large surge of even a more mild variant will still produce more patients than our already maxed-out system can handle. Moreover, doctors and nurses will themselves get sick.
The looming tidal wave of Omicron cases comes at an already challenging time for emergency departments across the U.S. The Delta wave never fully subsided, and a lot of ERs are already attending to too many COVID patients. Also making things worse: Emergency-room visits are up for non-COVID illness as well, in part because people have postponed some routine medical care throughout the pandemic. As a result, we head into winter with emergency rooms across the country overwhelmed and over capacity.
Here in Massachusetts, Governor Baker has issued a new mask advisory and activated 500 National Guard members to aid hospitals. He has also asked hospitals to cancel all elective surgeries. He said he won’t issue a mask mandate and says schools must stay open.
President Joe Biden will announce a plan on Tuesday to distribute 500 million free at-home rapid tests to Americans beginning in January as part of an attempt to double down on the spread of a transmissible variant that has hit the U.S. distressingly close to the holidays.
Biden’s new efforts come as the omicron variant became the most dominant COVID strain in the country Monday, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all cases, and just as travel kicks off at nearly pre-pandemic levels for the holiday season.
The free at-home rapid tests will be delivered by mail to Americans who request them, a senior administration official told reporters on Monday night in a preview of the speech, marking a slightly different approach from European countries that chose to send tests to all residents.
Americans will have to request the tests through a website that will launch in January, the official said, and its not yet clear how many tests Americans will be able to request per household.
Danger Ahead from the Trumpist Party
Doug Sosnik at The Washington Post: Opinion: As the GOP sheds its moderates, a whirlwind approaches.
We don’t need to wait for the results of next year’s midterm elections to know that a political shock wave is headed toward Washington. The early tremors are already detectable.
Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party will soon be complete, and what had previously been a fringe element within the GOP will emerge fully in control. The two big lies — that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was not serious enough to merit an investigation — are no longer considered radical inside the GOP.
Republicans can be expected to take over the House of Representatives after the midterm elections — most likely by a considerable margin. Trump already dominates the GOP at the state and local levels, and with the notable exceptions of Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), has a vice-like grip on Republican House members. Even if Trump does not run in 2024, his views and policies now represent mainstream Republican thinking.
And even if the Democrats maintain their narrow grip on the Senate, what is left of the reasonable wing of the Republican Senate is about to disappear. The Republican half of the Senate is on the brink of a new, and irresponsible, era. The 2022 election will cement the trend.
The Senate Republican Caucus has been the last remaining guardrail preventing Trump’s complete takeover of the Republican Party. That is about to change. There are five senators from what passes for the “governing wing” of the Republican Party who have announced their retirements: Richard C. Shelby (Alabama), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Richard Burr (North Carolina), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pennsylvania). Because Trump carried all but one of these states (Pennsylvania) in 2020, it is a safe bet all these men will be replaced by more Trump acolytes. In each of these states, the Republican primary has been a referendum on which candidate is most similar to Trump.
It is only because of some of the soon-departing establishment Republicans — and a small handful of others — that President Biden got a hard infrastructure bill on his desk and an increase in the debt ceiling while at the same time allowing the government to remain open.
Because they control the redistricting process in most states, Republicans have been busy redrawing maps and packing swing districts to provide them with more conservative voters. Since winning a Republican congressional primary is tantamount to winning the general election, the GOP will have spent 2021 creating the conditions that will push the party even further to the right.
If you can bear it, three examples of what GOP crazies are up to:
Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Sarah Palin’s anti-vax talk shows Republicans have become a death cult.
The Manchin Problem
Evan Osnos at The New Yorker: West Virginians Ask Joe Manchin: Which Side Are You On?
The active ingredients in Manchin’s political calculus have never been a great mystery: he is a Democrat aiming to get reëlected in an increasingly Republican state, and he is among the Senate’s largest recipients of campaign cash from the coal, oil, and gas industries, which have lobbied against the climate-change provisions in the bill he scuttled. But, to the West Virginians who begged him to support the anti-poverty programs in the Build Back Better bill, his rejection reflects a fundamental seclusion from the needs of people which he is no longer willing or able to perceive. To such critics in the state, Manchin has become an icon of Washington oligarchy and estrangement, a politician with a personal fortune, whose blockade against programs that have helped his constituents escape poverty represents a sneering disregard for the gap between their actual struggles and his televised bromides.
If Manchin’s opposition holds, his vote will be decisive in ending the expanded Child Tax Credit program, which, according to the Treasury Department, last week delivered payments benefitting three hundred and five thousand children in West Virginia. Statewide, ninety-three per cent of children are eligible for the credit, tied for the highest rate in the country. Analysts estimate that, if the program is allowed to expire, at the end of the month, fifty thousand children there will be in danger of falling into poverty. The average payment per family: four hundred and forty-six dollars a month.
Manchin is especially vulnerable to accusations of imperial remove. Photos that circulated online show him chatting over the rail of his houseboat in Washington with angry constituents, who had arrived by kayak. After he persuaded the Biden Administration to drop from the bill the Clean Electricity Performance Program, the centerpiece of efforts to slash greenhouse-gas emissions, climate protesters surrounded Manchin’s silver Maserati.
Jim McKay, the director of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, a nonprofit organization that lobbied Manchin to support the bill, told me that the senator was “conspicuously absent” from “personal meetings with West Virginia families.” McKay said, “Unfortunately, while his staff did have some meetings—which we are thankful to have had—personal contacts with Senator Manchin were extremely limited.” Dodging uncomfortable meetings is not unique in politics, but the accusation carries a special sting for Manchin, whose status as a Democrat in a red state makes him especially keen to project an image of a man who refuses to “go Washington.” McKay said, “I look forward to when Senator Manchin reconnects with average people.”
Read more from West Virginians at CNN: Coal miners want Joe Manchin to reverse opposition to Build Back Better.
The Washington Post on Manchin’s final offer to Biden: Manchin’s private offer to Biden included pre-K, climate money, Obamacare — but excluded child benefit.