Omicron plummets, New York leaders fumble

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There’s good news, and then there’s great news: COVID cases are down more than 90% from the first week of January. Hospitalization rates are down, too. The trendlines are all excellent, with New York state’s overall test positivity rate down to 4.4% from its recent high of 23%. 

Omicron is plainly on the way out, as fast as we said it would go. Gov. Kathy Hochul agrees: “Just like the snow is melting,” she said Tuesday, “hopefully these numbers will continue to melt away.”

Will the increased restrictions she and Mayor Eric Adams put in place also melt away? Omicron prompted or accelerated policy shifts on the way “up the curve” — the mask-or-vax mandate, for example, from Hochul, and then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s private-sector-employee vaccine mandate. It has not yet prompted a similar rethink on the way down. 

City and state policy on COVID has been, mostly, a one-way ratchet. It’s time for a change. (Hochul is hinting she might agree, at least on masks.)

Omicron is milder and quicker to spread. No shock there: Viruses tend to evolve to be less harmful over time; killing the host doesn’t optimize survival. So future strains are likely to do even less damage than Omicron. 

Just as we’ve lived for a century with the far-less-deadly descendants of the 1918 Spanish flu virus (the last true global pandemic), we are going be living permanently with increasingly weak, increasingly widespread variations of COVID. We need to accept this and get back to our pre-COVID lives. 

Adams stood up to fearmongers in the Department of Education and elsewhere and revamped COVID school policies in a way that actually made sense for kids and kept schools open through the surge. No harm — and lots of good — done.

We need more moves like that from him and Hochul alike. 

A clawback of mask mandates would be a good start. They’re near-impossible to enforce; in practice, they only inconvenience people and make small-business owners vulnerable to mask Karens.

Schools are a special note here. The risk COVID poses to kids is vanishingly small, and they are unlikely to infect their teachers. New York should already be done with compulsory in-school masking; now it’s an easy step toward sanity.

Next up? Voluntary masking only, everywhere. 

Then there are our multiple vaccine mandates. While nearly everyone should get the vaccine, the mandates have unintended consequences. Remember the recent health-staffing crunch? Hochul literally had to send in the National Guard. 

Here’s an idea: no more vax mandates. They didn’t hinder Omicron. They won’t stop the next variant.

On the numbers, heavy-handed anti-COVID policies don’t help, period.

Mayo Clinic data show that Florida — where Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed back against COVID insanity with severe restrictions on mask and vax mandates — saw about 347 average daily cases per 100,000 people at its Omicron peak. New York saw 366. Florida’s fatality rate at the peak was 1.2%. New York’s? 1.4%. And we saw similar outcomes between these two states with vastly different policies even before Delta. 

If draconian rules made a difference, they would, well, make a difference. 

So follow the science. Get things back to normal. The panic pandemic has to end. 

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