While the coronavirus pandemic keeps dimming into one of its quieter phases in some time, the political jostling over how best to battle the disease isn’t lessening.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans made this clear with their inability to provide $15.6 billion request by the Biden Administration to pay for coronavirus vaccines (especially promised, global supplies), testing programs for the uninsured, and prescription therapies (monoclonal antibodies) found to be safe and effective in preventing early-stage infections from becoming serious enough to require hospitalization.
The administration said the federal government spent sums allocated by Congress with alacrity since the end of last year or so in battling the Omicron variant surge, which sent coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths to scary highs for months.
But Republicans have dissented, arguing that the nation has spent so much on the pandemic that states and local governments are awash with unspent cash and sums should be clawed back from them or repurposed from other programs to cover any fights now against the coronavirus.
Governors have rejected the GOP assertions and warned the administration that state and local governments have committed promised federal coronavirus money already.
While Democrats — who already had scaled back administration estimates of needed coronavirus spending from as much as $80 billion, then to $30 billion — sought to deal with their colleagues across the aisle and to redirect sums allocated to states and other programs, this effort collapsed.
Some lawmakers faulted the administration for failing to give them enough to time to deal with stubborn colleagues. But congressional Democratic leaders said this was not the case.
They noted that GOP lawmakers somehow had far fewer questions and did not stand in the way of a similar-sized allocation to support Ukraine against the ghastly Russian invasion — assistance of the kind that Republicans not that long ago stood by and watched as the former president blocked unless he got a “favor” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of providing campaign dirt against Biden.
Democratic leaders underscored that the $1.5 trillion spending plan that won bipartisan approval — and avoided, again, a government shutdown for months longer — was so important that it could not be put at risk as financial deadlines loomed.
It is unclear, without the political leverage pandemic funding might enjoy in an “omnibus” spending bill running thousands of pages, how the administration will pay for public health measures to attack the disease, including by helping other countries, notably in Africa, get more vaccines.
Experts say that as long as swaths of people around the world, as well as in this country, do not get vaccinated, tested, and treated, the coronavirus has a high likelihood of not only raging on but also for mutations to emerge — with no guarantee these variants will be less infectious or deadly, and perhaps the opposite.
Still, the penny-wise and pound-foolish GOP crowd, who also have asked for detailed accounting of U.S. pandemic spending — a fiscal rectitude not demanded when their party held the White House — may avoid the toughest questions as the New York Times offered this status report on the pandemic:
“Virus activity continues to wane across the United States, with new case reports reaching their lowest levels since last summer. Coronavirus hospitalizations have fallen more than three-quarters from their January peak, to about 35,000 from more than 150,000. The number of patients in intensive care units has also plummeted. Around 1,400 deaths continue to be announced most days, well below the peak of the Omicron wave but still very high. More than 960,000 deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 in the United States. Fewer people are hospitalized with Covid-19, and fewer new cases are being announced each day, than in the weeks before the highly infectious Omicron variant became dominant in the United States. Every state is in far better shape than it was at the height of Omicron, and almost every state continues to see significant declines in daily case reports and hospitalizations.”
Let’s also keep in mind, though, that prominent experts and others have emphasized that, optimism notwithstanding, the pandemic is not over.
Regular folks appear to be having varied reactions to health officials easing pandemic measures like face covering, distancing, and proof of vaccination. Communities across the country, relying on recent shifts in guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control, have decided that many health measures, notably face masking, can end for many. (Please tell that to the truck-driving crowd — as shown above — that has proved to be a nuisance in the nation’s capital, protesting mandates that are nonexistent or already have been lifted.)
But those with heightened vulnerability to the virus — those who are older, immunocompromised, overweight, and with underlying conditions, or individuals from hard-hit communities of color — still may be staying careful, including by keeping on their masks. Those using public transportation also must keep their masks on for awhile longer.
The (responsible) unvaccinated in many areas that ease pandemic measures will be required to cover their faces and more as they cannot show proof that they have gotten their coronavirus shots and boosters.
The vaccines remain life changers and life savers. If you have not gotten yours, please do so, boosters and all, pronto. If you have been exposed or think you have gotten infected, please get tested — and quarantine or isolate to protect yourself and others.