Chris Hayes: We shouldn't reorient our lives around something that looks like the flu

Imagine how jarring this message must be for a regular MSNBC viewer, who’s spent nearly two years having it drummed into them daily that maximum precautions in all circumstances is the only responsible choice.

It must be similar to how a regular Fox News viewer feels watching Steve Doocy endorse vaccination. “Whose side are you on?”

But note Hayes’s caveat. He’s not saying that everyone should proceed as if Omicron is the flu. The vaccinated, particularly the vaccinated and boosted, should.

Some righties are circulating this clip on Twitter as evidence of Hayes’s hypocrisy: We’ve been comparing it to the flu since day one. Yeah, but the actual flu doesn’t kill 400,000 people per year. Hayes is reacting to the accumulating evidence that Omicron is meaningfully milder than previous strains. The flu comparison didn’t work before but it’s closer to the mark now. Even Anthony Fauci seems to be leaning that way:

It may turn out that omicron, at least among those who are vaccinated and/or previously infected, is going to turn out to be more of a bothersome upper-respiratory infection than something that causes the degree of morbidity and mortality that we’ve seen with other viruses,” Fauci said…

So what about New Year’s Eve? Party? No party? Fauci’s guidance is to keep it small, ideally with family and close friends known to be vaccinated and prudent in their behavior.

“You can’t ask the American public to lock themselves in their closet alone for New Year’s Eve. Because that’s the only way you’re going to be completely without risk,” he said.

We’ve come a long way when Fauci is scoffing at the idea of asking people to forgo any sort of group fun.

Other critics are needling Hayes for not shifting to this message earlier this year, when Delta was dominant. Relatively few vaccinated people suffered severe illness or death from that variant despite the fact that it was more dangerous. Why couldn’t MSNBC have told the vaxxed to treat Delta like a flu too? For two reasons, I think. First, although the unvaxxed constitute the overwhelming majority of COVID deaths, nearly 17,000 vaccinated people have died of breakthrough infections since April according to ABC’s analysis. Delta is low-risk if you’ve had your shots, especially if you’re under 65, but the risk isn’t as low as it seems to be with Omicron.

Second, during the Delta wave the vaccinated were asked to take precautions to help protect the unvaccinated, who were at risk of dying if infected. The vaxxed could catch its, especially as their immunity waned following their second shot, and transmit to their unvaxxed friends. That risk of transmission remains with Omicron (in fact, it’s grown significantly) but the risk of the unvaccinated dying from infection appears to have declined substantially. Although Hayes doesn’t put it this way, what he’s saying in the clip is that he suspects the risk of death is now low enough for everyone that the benefit from society-wide restrictions no longer justifies the cost.

As Keynes famously put it: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

New data from Gauteng province in South Africa shows how the facts are changing:

During Gauteng’s Delta wave, slightly less than half of all patients admitted to the hospital needed supplemental oxygen. During the Omicron wave, a little less than 20 percent needed it. And remember that only around one in four South Africans is vaccinated; natural immunity among the vast majority of unvaccinated citizens has been enough to hold the new variant at bay. That bodes well for what sort of outcome unvaccinated Americans with prior infection can expect from our wave.


Natural immunity derived from infection by Omicron should help choke off other variants from circulating. Even Delta.

Which raises a question: How are the feds going to define “fully vaccinated” after Omicron sweeps through the U.S.? There’s pressure on them to raise the bar to three shots but tens of millions of Americans who’ve had two shots are destined to get their “booster” from the new variant over the next month. At what point does natural immunity count as equivalent to a vaccine dose?

I’ll leave you with this, a reminder that Hayes remains an outlier among the hyper-cautious liberal brain trust.