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Biden on Omicron: Relax, this isn't March 2020

I’m surprised by how reasonable he sounds here. I shouldn’t be, as it’s in his interest to highlight the progress made on COVID control since he became president. But the Democratic impulse towards maximum precautions is so intense that it feels scandalous towards the end of the clip when he starts talking about how there’s no need to close schools.

His message today was simple: Get vaxxed if you haven’t yet, get tested before socializing, and don’t panic about Omicron. If you’ve done the things you should, beginning with getting your shots, “you should feel comfortable celebrating Christmas and the holidays as you planned it.” Good advice, all told.

Why, he even gave Donald Trump a little credit. More on that below.

If Biden had delivered this speech a few days from now he would have been able to tout another major milestone, the arrival of effective therapeutics against COVID. According to Bloomberg, the FDA is days away from authorizing Pfizer’s and Merck’s wonder drugs for emergency use.

An announcement may come as early as Wednesday, according to three of the people. They asked not to be identified ahead of the authorization and cautioned that the plan could change…

“It’s the biggest thing to happen in the pandemic after vaccines,” said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. The timing of the announcement, so late in the year, is unusual for the FDA and reflects the urgency behind the medicines, he said.

The U.S. government has ordered 10 million courses of the Pfizer pill and about 3 million courses of Merck’s, which isn’t as effective, clinical studies indicate, and may carry risks.

Great, great news — but, as with Biden’s new testing initiative, almost certainly too late to help much with Omicron. The new wave is apt to crash down and then subside before the tests or the drugs are available freely enough to make much difference. We’ll be well prepared for spring and summer but winter is baked in. Sorry, Joe. Should’ve moved more quickly:

Experts have been bleating about the dearth of rapid tests for more than a year. That was supposed to have been a January 2021 priority for Biden, not a December 2021 one.

You can tell how eager he is to try to get the entire country on the same page by his willingness to do something he almost never does, which is to cite Trump and his administration approvingly in the context of COVID. (Or any context.) He did it twice in this afternoon’s speech:

I’m picturing it now: The Donald J. Trump Vaccination Center, Hotel, and Casino.

The most heartening development of the past two weeks has been administration officials and even hyper-cautious cable-news doctors making the case for not hunkering down amid the Omicron surge if you’re protected. That applies especially to schools. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was on-message with Biden this morning, stressing that kids need to be in class:

There’s no excuse to keep them home. The risk of severe illness among kids hasn’t increased even as nastier variants have come down the pike and vaccines are now available for those whose parents want to hedge against that risk anyway. We have more than 18 months of practice at keeping schools safe from COVID, to the extent they were ever under threat. Keep the schools open until there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Even this borderline socialist agrees:

Would Democratic opinion have shifted this much if Glenn Youngkin hadn’t shocked America by flipping Virginia last month? My cynical impulse is to say no, but the effects of lost class time on kids may be so glaring by now that precaution-crazy liberals would have changed their risk calculus anyway. Either way, the national trend is against closing schools even in blue jurisdictions:

Districts have mostly reassured families that despite targeted classroom closures to contain spread of the virus, they plan to continue in-person learning until the Christmas break and reopen as planned in January. New York City, Boston and Montgomery County, Md., in suburban Washington, were among the large school systems that said they would not shift districtwide to remote learning, or would do so only if forced to by public health officials…

The picture had been bright enough that many schools relaxed virus restrictions in recent weeks.

Several school districts in Florida dropped their mask mandates. New Jersey relaxed school quarantine rules, decoupling them from community transmission rates and reducing the number of stay-at-home days for students who had close contact with an infected person.

If Omicron is as brief and mild as everyone hopes, it’ll leave barely a trace in America’s classrooms.

I’ll leave you with Dr. Leana Wen, normally a hawk about COVID precautions but currently keen on holding the Times Square bash on New Year’s Eve as scheduled. Get your shots, keep calm, and carry on — that’s her message. Even the expert class is exhausted with pandemic America.