Josh Hammer: The Best Path Forward for Omicron: Let It Rip

The recent arrival of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has, for far too many, reset the clock of our timeline for a return to societal normalcy.

Public health authorities in many countries reimposed loosened travel restrictions that had lapsed. Washington, D.C., under the mayorship of Muriel Bowser, passed a draconian private-sector vaccination mandate, the likes of which had previously only passed muster in iconic deep-blue metropolises such as New York City. The vacillating mandarins who constitute the “public health” apparatus in this country, such as Lord-Emperor Anthony Fauci, quickly began fearmongering about the need to avoid large gatherings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Restaurants and bars across the country that had shelved mask mandates suddenly deemed it necessary to make customers mask up again.

The sober reality, as should be obvious as we approach the two-year anniversary of “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” is that COVID-19 is simply not going anywhere; much like influenza or the common cold, it is now something humanity is simply going to have to deal with. Furthermore, at this point in the “pandemic,” it should be equally obvious that the COVID-19 vaccines are completely ineffective at preventing viral transmission. There is simply no compelling evidence that the vaccines are generally effective at slowing the spread. The vaccines often appear to be an effective symptom mitigation prophylactic for those who catch COVID-19, but that makes vaccination a quintessential private health decision with little-to-no relevance for public health authorities.

The omicron variant, furthermore, may be highly contagious, but it is also highly nonlethal. According to a Wednesday tweet from no less a public health “authority” than Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky herself, the omicron variant, compared with its delta variant predecessor, poses a 53% lower risk for symptomatic hospitalization, a 74% lower risk for ICU admission and a 91% lower risk of death. What’s more, zero — yes, literally zero  — omicron-infected patients in the U.S. have, to date, required mechanical ventilation. And it is at best unclear, as of this writing, whether there has been more than one omicron-induced death in the U.S.

What’s more, omicron isn’t just symptomatically mild — it’s everywhere. Last week, the CDC estimated that a remarkably high 95.4% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were attributable to omicron.

In such a situation as this, where the overwhelming majority of new cases for a highly contagious virus (and for which even a “booster” vaccine cannot help forestall transmission) are so symptomatically mild and where the possibility of death is near zero, there is only one logical public policy posture that public health authorities should take: Sit back and let the omicron variant rip through these United States.

Suffice it to say that this has not been our universal response to date. As popular pundit Ann Coulter tweeted last month, the D.C.- and blue state-driven reaction has often looked more like this: “GOD: Here’s a gift humans: a COVID variant that’s wildly contagious, but not lethal, to spread immunity far and wide! HUMANS (in blue states): TRIPLE MASK! CANCEL GATHERINGS! SHUT DOWN!”

Coulter’s instinct is sound. In general, it is imprudent to base sweeping public policy decisions on idiosyncratically vulnerable population subsets. As one example, consider how no one in his right mind would seek to ban peanuts despite the fact that a peanut allergy is both common and often deadly (certainly, far deadlier than omicron). This has been the biggest flaw in our COVID-19 response, all along: It always made more sense to isolate and quarantine the uniquely compromised, rather than impose in blunderbuss fashion draconian restrictions upon an entire populace.

The very nonlethal nature of omicron only further militates in favor of a policy of “let it rip.” Zero Americans have required a ventilation from omicron to date, and it seems that precisely one American has died. It borders on insanity to make public policy based on that. The wiser and saner thing to do would be to let the omicron variant rip and spread far and wide, temporarily making many Americans mildly ill in the short term while bulking up their natural immunity in the long term — and, of course, avoiding ventilation and death.

To that end, public policy should actually look like something approximating the opposite of our current approach. Instead of doling out free COVID-19 tests willy-nilly and encouraging everyone to test and avoid one another, we should be discouraging mass testing — especially for the asymptomatic — and eschewing any and all arbitrary restrictions on public gatherings. Leading red states such as Texas, Florida and Tennessee can and should lead the way by restricting the mass availability of testing for all but the vulnerable and immunocompromised. On omicron, the freest policies are now necessarily also the best policies.

At least as it pertains to the omicron variant, the only way out is through. Let this thing rip.

PHOTO: Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Photo by Trump White House Archives. Public Domain Mark 1.0. 

Josh Hammer is opinion editor of Newsweek, a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation, counsel and policy advisor for the Internet Accountability Project, a syndicated columnist through Creators and a contributing editor for Anchoring Truths. A frequent pundit and essayist on political, legal and cultural issues, Josh is a constitutional attorney by training and the co-host of two podcasts: Newsweek's "The Debate" and the Edmund Burke Foundation's "NatCon Squad."

An outspoken conservative, Josh opines on conservative intellectual trends, contemporary domestic and foreign policy debates, constitutional and legal issues, and the intersection of law, politics and culture. He has been published by many leading outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Newsweek, National Affairs, American Affairs, The National Interest, National Review, City Journal, First Things, Public Discourse, Law & Liberty, Tablet Magazine, Deseret Magazine, The Spectator, The American Conservative, The American Mind, American Greatness, American Compass, Anchoring Truths, Townhall, The Epoch Times, The Daily Wire, Fortune, Fox Business, Pairagraph, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jewish Journal. He has had formal legal scholarship published by the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and the University of St. Thomas Law Journal.

Josh is a college campus speaker through Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young America's Foundation, as well as a law school campus speaker through the Federalist Society. Prior to Newsweek and the Daily Wire, where he was an editor, Josh worked at a large law firm and clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Josh has also served as a John Marshall Fellow with the Claremont Institute.

Josh graduated from Duke University, where he majored in economics, and from the University of Chicago Law School. He lives in Miami, but remains an active member of the State Bar of Texas.