What, Me Worry? Government Officials Downplay Covid-19 Panic Even As Case Counts Soar

Everyone knows the 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove, a Stanley Kubrick film which satirized Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict.

But more and more of those with pandemic fatigue across the nation are starting to recognize the film’s sub-title as the way they should be carrying on: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,

As we move into the heart of the winter, a strange dichotomy is emerging: while cases of Covid-19 are up across the nation, sparking long testing lines and increased hospital stays in some locations, some officials appear to be tossing up their hands.

The federal government has already said they have no solution, kicking the can to the states. That’s while many state governors are backing off from closings. other new rules and heavy-handed approaches to dealing with the coronavirus. Instead, they urge caution rather than panic, particularly as the omicron variant appears more contagious but less lethal than previous strains.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has suggested Covid-19 and its variants could be treated more like the flu. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is focused on voluntary mask wearing and vaccinations. “We don’t have the practical ability to really put on a statewide mask order at this point,” DeWine said in late December. “I don’t think it’s appropriate at this point. We have the vaccine. We have the tools.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy echoed that approach. “Here is what we need everyone to really take to heart — the need to mask up, to get boosted and to just practice common sense,” Murphy said.

South Carolina set a record for positive tests over the New Year’s weekend. But Gov. Henry McMaster took it in stride. “If you get real sick, there will be room in the hospitals,” he promised. “There’s no need to panic. Be calm. Be happy. We just had a great Christmas season. Business is booming.”

Even in the nanny state of California, where the a spike in infections saw the state health department extend an indoor mask mandate, there’s no enforcement planned. “I think a lot of people will self-enforce and do the right thing,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters last month.

Panic in the media over increased cases ignores several facts.

Over the last week, California has seen an average of 54,695 new coronavirus cases per day. That’s the highest rolling total of the pandemic. The previous high in the surge was about 46,000 cases per day last winter.

However, case counts don’t necessarily equal disaster. The death counts from Covid-19 have remained relatively level over the last four to six months, and have not recently spiked.

Similarly, hospitalizations are also not skyrocketing in the big picture. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the rate of those infected with Covid-19 who are hospitalized has dropped 50 percent in many locations compared to the record highs seen a year ago. Three percent of cases are admitted to hospitals, the CDC data shows. While percentages may be up, that’s not indicative of imminent armageddon.

“I think of this time as a transition,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Assn., to the Los Angeles Times. “The virus is transitioning, and as a society we are transitioning and learning to live with it.”

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