(by Ryan McMaken | The Mises Wire) – Last Sunday, President Biden declared that “the pandemic is over,” but quickly added “we still have a problem with COVID, we’re still working hard on it.”
Biden then reiterated, “But the pandemic is over,” and his proof was the fact that “nobody’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in really good shape. And so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example.”
Biden’s prevaricating position that “it’s over” but “we still have a problem” is exactly what we should expect from the regime when it comes to covid. After all, the Biden administration still enthusiastically supports the Pentagon’s vaccine mandates, and in federal courts the administration continues to push a variety of federal mandates, including air travel mask mandates and various federal education programs like Head Start. The feds still want forced vaccines for federal contractors. Travel to the United States still requires proof of vaccination. The federal government is even expected to announce “at least one additional extension to the current emergency.”
In other words, the administration is certainly not acting as if the “pandemic is over” in terms of real policy.
Yet Biden in his public comments contradicted the experts the administration relied on so much to fan the flames of the regime’s beloved Covid Panic. As Fortune’s Erin Prater demonstrated this week, the usual gatekeepers of covid “science” hardly agree with Biden that the pandemic is over. Michael Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research says it’s too early to tell if the pandemic is over. Biden’s comments “were not well thought out,” says Osterholm. Meanwhile, Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association says the president “clearly misspoke” and “we need to be very clear that the pandemic is not over.”
At least these people are being consistent. According to the CDC’s own statistics, more than 300 people a day have died from covid in recent weeks, and “community transmission” is still classified as high in most of the US. Daily new cases remain where they were for much of 2020 and 2021.
It’s not hard to see why the administration has suddenly forgotten all the supposed science that policymakers repeatedly hammered home to demand support for countless state and federal mandates for forced vaccines, lockdowns and business closures. The regime’s current ruling coalition, the Democratic Party, is afraid of losing a lot of time in the November elections, so it also wants to tell people how wonderful everything is. If there weren’t an election in two months, we’d surely be hearing all about how terrible the pandemic is.
But, there’s an election, and that means Biden has to be there talking about how the pandemic is no big deal, that everyone should stop complaining about inflation, and that things are fine.
Most ordinary Americans declared the pandemic many months ago
Winning the election, after all, requires at least somewhat aligning the party’s public positions with existing public opinion before election day.
And that’s exactly what Biden is doing. There are not enough ideologues left committed to covid to secure the victory party. Only in certain left-wing strongholds does a significant portion of the voting public actually consider “the pandemic” a priority. Yes, one will continue to meet many true believers in the Bay Area, or New York City, or Martha’s Vineyard. And, of course, this attitude prevails in countless college towns across the country, where, shockingly, college campuses continue to enforce vaccine mandates. Pandemic panic also remains popular among corporate elites whose main concern in 2022 seems to be that they are soldiers loyal to the regime.
However, in most of the real world, which includes at least half of the American public, people have long since moved on. Virtually no one wears masks anymore, isolating themselves in case of “possible exposure” or queuing for the next boost. This sort of thing may seem normal in California or Chicago City Hall, but few normal people listen to the usual harangues offered by health bureaucrats anymore.
More importantly, it’s highly unlikely that Biden will go on TV and announce that “the pandemic is really bad right now, guys!” that many people would listen.
Pandemics end when the public says yes
So now we’re seeing the pandemic end exactly as we’d hoped. According to the hive of government-funded health researchers, the pandemic isn’t over yet, and they’re still saying “not so fast!” But in practice, the pandemic is over because people think it’s over.
In 2020, here at Mises.org we published a column called “Pandemics are over when the public decides they’re over,” exploring this phenomenon of disconnect between the “official” pandemic and the pandemic in practice . The conclusion was exactly what the title suggests. If the public has just implemented the regime’s “pandemic measures,” the pandemic is functionally over. As The New York Times explained in May 2020:
Pandemics usually have two kinds of endings: the medical one, which occurs when incidence and death rates plummet, and the social one, when the epidemic of fear of the disease subsides.
“When people ask, ‘When will this end?’, they are asking about the social end,” said Dr.[.] Jeremy Greene, historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins. In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been overcome, but because people tire of panic mode and learn to live with a disease.
Or, as Scientific American put it in March of this year:
“Every time people go into stores without masks or even just go into stores for pleasure, they’re signaling that they believe the pandemic is ending, if not over.” [historian of pandemics Marion] says Dorsey. Whether or not there is an official statement of some sort, “I don’t think anything makes sense until we, as a society…, act as if it does.”
Author and historian John M. Barry, who wrote one of the most definitive chronicles of the 1918 pandemic, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, has come to a similar conclusion. A pandemic ends “when people stop paying attention,” he says.
However, even the “medical” end of a pandemic is not as simple as it seems. Since covid is unlikely to go away, the question remains whether or not infections and deaths are at “stable” rates, or whether herd immunity has been achieved. Both would suggest the end of a pandemic, but it is not simple. As pointed out by Dr. Michel Accad at mises.org:
While herd immunity may be a real phenomenon that can occur under certain circumstances when populations are subject to a contagious disease, it is important to recognize that herd immunity is not a concept that has any practical value for establishing a policy of public health
For one thing, there is no objective way to establish that herd immunity has been achieved, as a “stable” rate of new infection is a subjective notion. What is a stable or tolerable infection rate for me may not be for you.
Therefore, in the absence of a disease that completely disappears, there is no clear definition of when a pandemic has disappeared.
They will still cling to their pandemic powers
True believers in lockdowns and forced vaccinations, however, will likely continue to debate under what conditions people can be “allowed” to live their lives without the intervention of health experts. Moreover, as we have seen, the regime does not give up its new powers.
Yes, people are bored with the current emergency and are not listening anymore. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fooled by the next “emergency,” whether the crisis is racism, the lack of abortions, or the climate. That’s why the administration will continue to sue in federal court to keep alive its prerogatives to impose vaccine mandates, border closures, mask mandates and more. The regime may have admitted that people don’t hear about covid right now, but that doesn’t mean the regime will willingly cede an ounce of power.
In other words, expect the current president—and all future presidents, too—to insist that they can still rule by decree with impunity whenever there’s an “emergency.” When exactly is there an emergency? Whenever federal politicians decide there is one. It’s our job to assume they’re lying.