Red Alert! Omicron Now Everywhere

Alert! Alert! Alert! This Virginia Department of Health map shows the COVID-19 transmission rate is uniformly high across the state.

by James A. Bacon

It’s crazy out there, folks. The Omicron variant is running rampant, racking up record numbers of cases across the Commonwealth and filling up hospitals. We have seen nothing like this spike in cases and hospitalizations during the pandemic, not even in last year’s winter surge. The main consolation is that deaths are not spiking. The greatest risk to public health may be indirect: COVID cases filling hospitals and displacing patients with non-emergency medical issues.

Thankfully, Governor Ralph Northam has refrained from ordering emergency shutdowns during his last days in office. The temptation to “do something” must be powerful, but it’s not clear that anything short of draconian Chinese-style lock-people-in-their-apartments shutdowns will do much to slow the spread of this hyper-transmissible variant.

Here’s the weekly snapshot of COVID data:

Virginia COVID cases

Virginia COVID hospitalizations

Virginia COVID deaths

Lecture time. Throughout the pandemic, I have consistently opposed vaccination mandates. That’s because I object to arbitrary and coercive government measures. I believe in letting people make decisions based upon their personal assessment of risk.

On the other hand, if liberty-loving members of society want to avoid the heavy hand of government, we must act responsibly! We must consider the impact of our actions on others. We also must follow the science as best we can, even as we recognize that the nature of the viral threat is continually morphing, the science is always playing catch-up, and the interpretation of the science is influenced by politics.

But there’s not much ambiguity about this data point: In the service territory of Ballad Health in Southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee, 91% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated; 97% of COVID patients relying on ventilators are unvaccinated.

Yes, you can be triple-vaccinated and still get COVID. But, based on statewide VDH data, the odds of winding up in the hospital are more than six times greater, and the odds of dying are about eight times greater, if you are unvaccinated.

Those are overall averages, of course, and your personal risk will vary by age and medical condition. Unfortunately, we don’t know the comparative odds if you have been infected and have natural immunities. That gap in information does represent a significant failing of our healthcare system. Furthermore, the VDH statistics lump together all COVID-19 variants. The gap in severe outcomes might be smaller for Omicron.

Still, the Omicron variant is so transmissible that it will hunt you down, and it will find you. Omicron is filling up Virginia hospitals. This is not propaganda from Joe Biden, Anthony Fauci, or The New York Times.

If you are unvaccinated and have not yet contracted COVID, you are at significantly higher risk of being hospitalized. If you wind up in the hospital, you are likely displacing someone who needs medical care but whose condition is less acute than yours. You are also racking up healthcare expenses that jack up healthcare insurance premiums for everyone. Your personal choices impact others.

Liberty is not license. Liberty is not hyper-individualism. Liberty doesn’t mean doing whatever you want — that’s libertinism. America’s founding fathers understood that a people living free from government coercion had to be virtuous. In times like this, virtue means considering the impact of your decisions on others.

Governor Ralph Northam is not compelling you to get the jab. Incoming Governor Glenn Youngkin will not compel you. True, universities are forcing students and staff to get vaccinated, but if you’re not part of those communities, that’s not your problem. At this point in time, here in Virginia, refusal to get your shots does not constitute an affirmation of your love of liberty. It’s just being bull- headed.