Quin Hillyer

Quin Hillyer

The United States should revise its response to COVID-19. This is going to be a long explanation of both why and how. This first column will explain why a better response is crucial. A companion column will outline the better strategy.

The tragedy of the U.S. pandemic response is that conservatives tend not to take it seriously enough while liberals overreact with counterproductive solutions. Both responses make matters worse, meaning either more culturally and economically devastating or more deadly. Or both.

For more than six months, many conservatives have been saying the pandemic is effectively finished, especially for the vaccinated. Both the numbers and the nature of viruses show they are dangerously wrong. This contagion is a major ongoing threat.

On Aug. 7, when the rolling seven-day average of U.S. coronavirus daily deaths again rose above 500, alarm bells should have gone off: At that rate, the annual deaths would have been three times worse than even a bad year of ordinary influenza. Since then, the bad numbers have nearly quadrupled yet again. As I write today, the seven-day average of deaths per day is at 1,827, the highest since March 2 and still rising. If this keeps up for a whole year, 666,855 more Americans would die in 12 months from COVID-19, on top of the 662,000 who already succumbed in the past 18 months.

Pro-lifers should be aghast: Those 666,855 are approximately the number of babies killed in U.S. abortions last year. Apart from abortion, that number exceeds the 665,381 who died of the No. 1 killer in 2020, heart disease. It also would come within just a few thousand deaths of equaling the third-through-seventh largest death causes in the U.S. (accidents, chronic lower-respiratory diseases, strokes and related causes, Alzheimer’s and diabetes) combined. And those ailments aren’t contagious. They don’t directly endanger others.

Looked at another way, those COVID-19 deaths would exceed the total U.S. military death count from all the main post-Civil War conflicts combined. Yes, the Spanish-American War, the war in the Philippines, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and this century’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all together, took 630,302 U.S. armed service lives. If we go before the Civil War to add the Mexican-American War, the War of 1812, and the Revolutionary War to the count above, we still would be about 3,000 deaths short of our current pace for the coronavirus. Even adding the U.S. citizens who died on 9/11 (2,605) wouldn’t overtop the present pace of deaths in just a single year.

So, yes, this thing is far from over, and it continues to get far worse. And that’s just deaths. The total case count and the hospitalization rates are through the roof, not to mention the related suffering and death of those with other ailments who can’t get hospital beds because of coronavirus overcrowding. This thing is raging, with no obvious end in sight.

Yet conservatives, justifiably angered at lockdowns and some heavy-handed mandates, tend to say the whole thing is overblown, or that it’s “just a pandemic among the unvaccinated,” and therefore undeserving of much governmental response aside from making vaccines more available. “It’s just their choice,” they say about the unvaccinated — as if the lives of the unvaccinated are any less valuable than others.

Most normative ethics, of course, hold that the lives of the foolish are every bit as precious as the lives of the wise. Even setting that aside, it’s just unlikely that what currently is mainly a pandemic among the unvaccinated will remain only among the unvaccinated.

Viruses mutate. The faster and more severely the virus spreads, whether among the vaccinated or the unvaccinated, the more chance there is for mutations. The more mutations, the more chance that a mutation will be resistant to current vaccines. If we don’t slow the spread or the severity of illness among the unvaccinated, then vaccinated people, too, will be at greater risk.

This is a fact. This is how viruses work. As it is, the delta variant infects even some 34% of those who have been vaccinated — compared with the vaccines’ 95% protection rate against earlier variants. Luckily, even with the delta variant, the vaccine lessens severity, so that hospitalization and death are much less likely. Yet if a single variant can erase a third of the absolute immunity of the virus, why can’t another variant erase a third of the protection against severe illness that can kill?

It is misleading to argue that it’s useless to worry about variants because earlier variants developed in other countries and then came here only later, and that therefore nothing we do in the U.S. will stop variants from happening. First, statistically, every reduction in incidence or severity of the coronavirus makes it less likely for deadly variants to develop. If we slow variations anywhere, we make them less likely everywhere. Second, variants that develop abroad usually take quite some time before they arrive on American shores, thus giving us a chance to prepare for them, whereas a homegrown variant could sweep quickly across the country, dangerously sickening U.S. residents first. Our job is to make it less likely for a major homegrown variant to occur and overwhelm us before we can plan prophylactic measures.

For all those reasons, vaccinated Americans can’t just shrug at this coronavirus and say we should just learn to live (or die) with it. It requires continued, aggressive response. Stay tuned to see what that response, or rather those responses, should be.

QUIN HILLYER is a senior commentary writer and editor for the Washington Examiner. He is also a contributing editor for National Review Online and is a former executive editor for the American Spectator.

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