Omicron proves — yet again — COVID is not just a red-state problem

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Washington, DC, is now the epicenter of the pandemic. 

As of Dec. 23, it had 158 cases per 100,000 residents — 541 percent growth in the last two weeks. This is much more than Alabama, Mississippi or South Carolina, all of which had cases in the 20s or below per 100,000. 

Is this because DC Mayor Muriel Bowser cares less about controlling the virus than the governors of those three Southern states? No; if anything, she’s been overly zealous. It’s just that the Omicron surge has hit in winter, when places like DC — and the Northeast in general — are particularly susceptible. 

Other jurisdictions that have seen big increases include Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

The Omicron wave should finally put paid to the perfervid fantasy, a staple of center-left thinking, that COVID is somehow primarily a red-state phenomenon, fueled by Republican recklessness and heartlessness.

It’s been obvious for a long time that there’s an enormous seasonal element to COVID and that the virus itself has the most influence on the patterns of its spread and severity. The South got slammed in the summer by the hard-hitting Delta surge, and now Omicron — which, fortunately, looks to be milder — is roaring through blue states.

This context doesn’t make for a useful political narrative, though, so the media and the left have ignored it in a hunt for cartoon villains. In August, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman slammed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his state’s surge and unfavorably compared it with low numbers in New York. Of course, at other junctures of the pandemic he easily could have done the opposite.

Krugman said that DeSantis “has effectively acted as an ally of the coronavirus,” a charge widely lodged against him and other GOP governors supposedly running a “death cult.” 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was criticized for his leadership during a COVID outbreak in his state in August.
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File

DeSantis has never been anti-vaccine but has opposed vaccine mandates, vaccine passports and masking in schools. Even if one stipulates for the sake of argument that DeSantis has been wrong about all these policies, it is ridiculous to suggest Florida would have been spared the ravages of Delta if he had decided differently. A New York Times analysis of vaccine mandates concluded that they “have not provided the significant boost to state and local vaccination rates that some experts had hoped for.” 

As it happens, positions that once were characterized as the height of Republican irresponsibility — opposition to lockdowns and closing schools — are now such a matter of consensus that even President Joe Biden takes them for granted. 

Biden, more than anyone, should realize that the facile belief that Donald Trump or other Republicans had it within their power to shut down the pandemic at any point was partisan opportunism and tripe. 

People in Washington, DC wait in line for COVID-19 tests amid the spread of the Omicron variant on December 21, 2021.
People in Washington, DC wait in line for COVID-19 tests amid the spread of the Omicron variant on December 21, 2021.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

By the unreasonable standards he and others created over the last 18 months, Biden stands exposed as a miserable failure. On Jan. 20, when he was inaugurated, there had been roughly 25 million COVID cases in the United States; now there have been 50 million cases. On Jan. 20, roughly 415,000 Americans had died; now, more than 800,000 have. 

The truth is that even though the likes of Ron DeSantis and Muriel Bowser have contrasting philosophies and differ in their willingness to let individuals make their own risk calculations in dealing with the virus, neither wants residents to get infected or die, and neither is responsible for a highly transmissible virus variant hitting at a time of maximum seasonal vulnerability.

Back in August, when everyone was saying he had blood on his hands, DeSantis noted that the virus is here to say and vaccines and treatments — not ham-fisted restrictions — are the best weapons against it. The virus is now hitting a different part of the country hardest, but this view remains the correct one.

Twitter: @RichLowry

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