New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
How many people in your friend circles are Covid-positive right now? How many families do you know with kids who are quarantining at home due to a close contact? Here in my vaccinated and boosted New York bubble, I know two of each type. Covid is back on the tips of peoples’ tongues. And this is not just an anecdotal impression: A winter surge is clearly underway, according to government data. CNN’s charts plotting daily new cases over the past 14 days show rising levels in at least 35 states.
The current surge is driven by the Delta variant and could soon be super-powered by Omicron. So: “It is not clear what the near future will look like.”
That sentence could have been written in March 2020 or November 2020 or July 2021. But it is equally applicable now, and that’s why David Wallace-Wells included it in his brand new NYMag piece titled “Omicron Is About to Overwhelm Us.”
“For all their limitations, the models right now are flashing bright red,” Wallace-Wells wrote. Besides, “we don’t need models to tell us that the pandemic is taking a bad turn.” Even in a best-case scenario, he said, the new variant is so transmissible that “the country is almost certainly going to be overwhelmed, very soon, by new cases.”
There are some reasons to believe that the cases will be overwhelmingly mild, even more so among the fully vaccinated. There are also some reasons to believe that cases is no longer a very helpful metric. But public policy and, frankly, many peoples’ perceptions of Covid have not caught up to this new reality. So we’re caught up yet again in a moment of creeping anxiety and uncertainty, of closures and confusion.
Personally, for what little it’s worth, my view aligns with Reason mag senior editor Robby Soave: “Basically everyone is going to get covid eventually,” he wrote, “and when you get it, you’re either going to be vaccinated, or you’re going to wish you were vaccinated.” Coming down with Covid in December 2021 means something different than it did in December 2020. So news coverage must convey that and explain why. And the coverage must continue to highlight testing problems. Access to vaccines was a big story; access to testing should be, as well…
>> For more, check out this new reporting from CNN’s Jacqueline Howard: Both flu and Covid-19 cases are rising in much of the US…
Living with risk
As always, Covid conversations are about risk assessment. Dr. Anthony Fauci invoked “risk” while answering questions from Wolf Blitzer in “The Situation Room” on Wednesday. People “should feel comfortable” celebrating the holidays with other vaccinated folks, he said: “People should not feel that that’s not safe. I mean, nothing is 100%, but when you talk about the relative risk when you’re dealing with vaccinated and, particularly, boosted people, you can feel comfortable enjoying the holiday.”
>> This TIME headline captures the state of play well: “How do you even calculate Covid-19 risk anymore?” Jamie Ducharme wrote, “We’re all doing the best we can with the information we have, filling in the gaps as we go…”
>> NYT reporter Marc Tracy, reacting to the dominant conversation on Media Twitter, called Wednesday “the afternoon when everyone realized they were probably going to get Covid soon…”
>> NYMag’s Benjamin Hart with a message for the vaccinated: “The reward for living cautiously most of the last two years, waiting for science to do its thing, is that when COVID finally comes for us, it’s a less formidable foe. It’s easier to accept your virus fate when you’re not so damn scared of it anymore…”
New view from inside a Covid ward
“More than 1,200 people in the United States are dying from Covid-19 each day,” as the NYT noted here. The suffering almost always occurs out of sight, but Bloomberg’s Drew Armstrong has a new story that describes the scenes inside a regional hospital in Kentucky.
“For the people who get really sick, this disease is brutal,” Armstrong tweeted. “It’s very hard to understand that until you see it yourself. Most people never will, though.” He reminded readers that “patient privacy laws make it VERY hard for hospitals to let journalists in.”
Patient privacy is important, he said, “but the result is that there is horror inside the hospital, and outside it you get ‘we’ve moved on from Covid’ takes.” Armstrong added, “Almost every doctor and nurse I spoke to said they did not think anyone outside the hospital knew what things were like. Most of the public has no idea. But they have seen horror after horror.”
Related notes and quotes
— “Like drinking from a fire hose:” Maggie Fox wrote about health care workers who have been traumatized by the pandemic… (CNN)
— Broadway has been rattled by a raft of “Covid cancellations,” Michael Paulson reports… (NYT)
— “NFL and NBA games are now being decided by Covid tests…” (WSJ)
— “If there’s one thing that most Americans agree on, it’s that they’re tired of Covid,” Laura Ingraham said Wednesday night, citing this new poll. “AMERICANS ARE DONE WITH COVID,” her banner said… (Monmouth)
Eye on disinformation
— Melody Schreiber writes about how AmazonSmile is donating “tens of thousands of dollars to anti-vaccine groups…” (Guardian)
— Andrew Wallenstein argues that Facebook “won’t win the blame game on Covid misinfo…” (Variety)
— Yacob Reyes features a new effort to fight Covid nonsense with cartoons… (Axios)
Mandating boosters at work
The staff of The Washington Post was told on Wednesday that “there will be a phased return to office, with some people on Jan. 31 and the rest on Feb. 15,” the NYT’s Katie Robertson reported. Plus, “The Post will be mandating boosters and requiring weekly testing at the office.” Oliver Darcy reported on the booster news last week, but the weekly testing wrinkle is new…
>> Booster mandates are all over the news: Universities and performing arts centers and sports leagues and other institutions are taking the same steps…
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