Saturday, December 18, 2021

It’s time to abolish ‘emergency’ COVID-19 powers

By Glenn H. Reynolds | New York Post

COVID is over. Oh, not with Anthony Fauci. Not with the media. Not with the sour-faced Karens who have enjoyed the sense of meaning — and power — it’s given them. But with normal people, especially outside the big urban areas, it’s over.

The Atlantic scandalized its readers by reporting that this week. In an article titled “Where I Live, No One Cares About COVID,” Matthew Walther wrote: “No one cares. Literally speaking, I know that isn’t true, because if it were, the articles wouldn’t be commissioned. But outside the world inhabited by the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many, if not most, Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over, and they have been for a long while.”

And with good reason. I confess that in the early days, I was a COVID hawk. With China reporting a 4 to 5 percent mortality rate, there seemed reason. (In fact, I should have reflected more on the untrustworthiness of information from China, especially after the experience of the Diamond Princess cruise ship suggested that COVID was a lot less scary than we were told.)

But science, and rationality in general, is about changing your opinions when you learn new facts. And what we’ve learned is that COVID is somewhat worse than the flu but not nearly bad enough to justify the enormous, expensive and disruptive changes we’ve endured.

In fact, the damages wrought by lockdowns and social isolation — medical, in terms of reduced exercise, missed medical screenings and increased drug and alcohol consumption, as well as psychological, in loneliness and anxiety — may have been worse than those wrought by COVID itself.

Also, most of the nostrums offered by the experts and Karens are nonsensical and don’t work. Masks outdoors, where COVID doesn’t really spread anyway? Plexiglas screens everywhere? Shut-down public water fountains and a wide variety of service changes in hotels, restaurants and airplanes that are attributed to COVID but really about saving money?

People have seen through this, and they’re over it. (And not just in the United States — a friend in London reports that everyone there is cheerfully going unmasked, crowding into pubs and generally ignoring whatever rules remain nominally in force.)

And now the media are trying to rev up fear about the Omicron variant (so-called because naming it the Xi variant would have upset the Chinese) but without much luck. From what we know, the Omicron variant isn’t nearly as lethal. The typical symptoms, mild weakness and a bit of muscle pain, seem rather like those from the vaccines. As it spreads rapidly, it will leave a huge cohort of people with natural immunity or, if they’ve been vaccinated, an enhanced immunity.

Meanwhile, the powers that be have revealed themselves to be dishonest and inept. Fauci lied about masks at the beginning. Andrew Cuomo sent COVID patients into nursing homes (it made money for his contributors), which caused thousands of elderly people to die. Scarcely a day goes by without some bigshot — California Gov. Gavin Newsom, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Anthony Fauci himself — being found breaking his or her own rules on masking, social distancing, etc.

School kids are forced to eat their lunches outdoors and wear masks while adults gather in bars, restaurants and sporting events. The entire COVID apparatus is collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity.

And most people by now have had COVID or know many people who have. It’s not smallpox, it’s not Ebola; in many people it’s not as bad as the flu. In 40 percent of cases, a study recently published in JAMA Network Open found, it’s entirely asymptomatic.

People have noticed and rebelled. And authorities are cracking. Gov. Kathy Hochul just backed down after her effort to impose a statewide mask mandate drew overwhelming opposition. Businesses said they wouldn’t cooperate. Local officials said they wouldn’t enforce the rule. Hochul caved, saying she wouldn’t force counties to go along. Righty pundit Matt Margolis called it a “spectacular failure,” and it was.

Amtrak, facing broad resistance from its workers, suspended its vaccine mandate for employees. And Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said no to a mask mandate, declaring, “The emergency is over.”

It is. And now that it’s over, we need to claw back all the power seized by various institutions in the name of emergency. And when that’s done, we need a searching inquiry into how the power was exercised — an inquiry with consequences.

It’s time.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the blog.