How to spend our Covid vacation- POLITICO

A LULL, NOT A BYE-BYE — So now what?

As Nightly told you last week, we’re probably heading into a pandemic lull. Not today, but soonish. Fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations, fewer deaths. All good.

But a lull doesn’t mean an end. And if we want to use the lull wisely to prepare for the next wave — or a future pandemic — we need public health to do a better job communicating to avoid a repeat of the whiplash, anger and distrust that’s worsened division and prolonged the mess we ‘ve leg in.

We, the public, also need to do a better job of listening to nuance but admittedly, based on what we’ve seen over the last two years, that’s a tall order.

Everyone really wants the pandemic to be over (and for those of you who have decided it already is, let me remind you that Covid was the second leading cause of death in the US in January. Deaths are still running around 2,500 a day).

But this virus doesn’t care what we want.

So we have to change how we talk about the future, Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown’s School of Public Health, suggested in an interview with Nightly.

Right now “living with the virus” is often short-hand for ignoring it. What it should mean, instead, is respecting its cadences and knowing when to dial up and dial down our protective responses. When we can do most of what’s really important to us — and when we need to slow it down. Maybe not another “hot vax summer” but a pretty enjoyable spring.

Jha in a recent tweet thread likened virus precautions like masks to rain boots and umbrellas. You don’t need to use all of them when it’s drizzling, but you are way better off having them when it pours. And sometimes it’s going to pour.

But public health hasn’t always done a good job of conveying that uncertainty, so some people feel betrayed or manipulated or song to when the advice changes. That’s when the demonization of “lying” scientists gets ugly. And counter productive.

Jha and other experts also worry that there’s a growing belief out there — a hardening but inaccurate conventional wisdom — that viruses always evolve to get less dangerous. “That’s wrong,” he told Nightly. “They can be more deadly,” he told Nightly. Omicron may have been milder than its predecessors, but it’s possible that son (or daughter or third cousin) of Omicron could be a whole lot worse. Or not. We just don’t know.

There’s also too much faith in our acquired immunity, he said. Yes, we have built up a lot through vaccination, natural infection or both.

But that immunity, while probably pretty strong right now, is impermanent. It won’t go away entirely — our immune systems are smarter than that. But based on what researchers are seeing to date, it’s likely to wane.

“People who think natural infection is their ticket to ride for the rest of this pandemic are looking forward to multiple rounds of infection,” Jha said.

More variants — and more surges — are almost certain, Johns Hopkins virologist Andrew Pekosz and his colleague Crystal Watson, an expert on public health risk assessment, told a Bloomberg School of Public Health media briefing this week.

But we also have more tools to cope with that: vaccines, first and foremost, but also new medicines, better understanding how to treat people who get sick, and more abundant testing and supplies.

So public health officials say the lull is a time to keep preparing: stockpiling tests and drugs and vaccines and supplies. And if we end up not needing them, terrific. As Jha pointed out, we spend a huge amount of time and money stockpiling defense equipment and running strategic planning exercises year after year. If there’s no attack, nobody gets mad or makes death threats against the Pentagon’s equivalent of Anthony Fauci.

Having adequate, reliable supplies of those pandemic-fighting tools — which we didn’t have in 2020 — without panicked scrambling will help us manage future outbreaks, said Mandy Cohen, who stepped down a few weeks ago as North Carolina’s top health official.

Public health officials should acknowledge, even lean into, the uncertainty. “Talking in absolutes has gotten folks in trouble,” said Cohen, who did something like 150 public briefings during her tenure, with graphs and data that shed light on both the known and the unknown.

Not to make hope the strategy. But to have a strategy that enables us to hope.

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out with news, tips and ideas at [email protected]. Or contact tonight’s author on Twitter at @JoanneKenen.

— Congressional staffers start unionization push with Democrats’ support: Congressional staffers launched an effort today to unionize their workplace as part of a growing reckoning with poor pay and hostile working conditions, encouraged by a groundswell of lawmaker support. The group, dubbed the Congressional Workers Union, said in a statement online it seeks to “unionize the personal offices and committees” throughout Congress. Currently, staffers in personal offices of members and committees can organize but there is not a process in place for them to codify a union or exercise collective bargaining rights.

— North Carolina Supreme Court strikes down GOP-drawn congressional map: North Carolina’s state Supreme Court handed Democrats one of their biggest legal victories yet in the fight over redistricting, striking down a GOP-drawn congressional map that could have given Republicans control of 11 of the state’s 14 districts.

— Biden gets a good news-bad news job report: The government’s latest employment report defied economic forecasts and gave President Joe Biden a sudden burst of good news: a flood of new jobs, surging wages and more workers participating in the labor force, even as Omicron surged. Yet the stock market tumbled after the numbers were released. That’s because the report was so solid — 467,000 jobs were created in January and the totals were revised upward by more than 700,000 for the previous two months — that it provides more fuel for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. The Fed’s goal is to bring down inflation, but hiking borrowing costs could also slow economic growth.

— Pence rebukes Trump: ‘I had no right to overturn the election’: In a speech to the conservative Federalist Society, former Vice President Mike Pence rebuked his one time boss, Donald Trump, decrying the notion that he could have overturned the election results on the 45th president’s behalf. “Our Founders were deeply suspicious of consolidated power in the nation’s capital and were rightly concerned with foreign interference if presidential elections were decided in the capital,” Pence said. “But there are those in our party who believe that as the presiding officer over the joint session of Congress, I possessed unilateral authority to reject electoral college votes. And I heard this week, President Trump said I had the right to ‘overturn the election’. President Trump is wrong. … I had no right to overturn the election.”

— GOP censures Cheney, Kinzinger, moves to pull out of debates: Republican Party officials voted to punish GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their work on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection and advanced a rule change that would prohibit candidates from participating in debates organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates. GOP officials took a voice vote to approve censuring Cheney and Kinzinger at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Salt Lake City. On Thursday, members of an RNC subcommittee decided to advance the censure resolution against the pair instead of calling for their expulsion from the party.

— Michael Avenatti convicted of stealing from Stormy Daniels: Michael Avenatti was convicted of charges he cheated the porn actor Stormy Daniels out of nearly $300,000 she was supposed to get for writing a book about an alleged tryst with Trump. It was another crushing defeat for the California lawyer, who has faced a host of legal problems after briefly rising to fame as one of Trump’s leading antagonists on cable news early in his administration.

— CDC advisors recommend fully approved Moderna Covid vaccine: CDC’s independent vaccine advisory panel voted unanimously today to recommend Moderna’s two-dose Covid-19 vaccine series for all adults, following the FDA’s formal approval of the product. The recommendation sets up CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to give her endorsement and give the US two fully licensed vaccines in its Covid arsenal.

LET A WILD GAMES BEGIN — International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach urged world leaders to “give peace a chance” at the outset of the Winter Games in Beijing — an apparent nod to the ongoing security crisis along Ukraine’s borders and Western criticism of China’s human rights abuses.

“In our fragile world — where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise — we show the world, yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together,” Bach said in an address at the games’ opening ceremony, which was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“In this Olympic spirit of peace,” Bach added, “I appeal to all political authorities across the world: Observe your commitment to this Olympic truth. Give peace a chance.”

Bach’s remarks come as tensions continue to escalate in Eastern Europe, where Russia has massed roughly 100,000 troops around Ukraine in a military build-up that has sparked concern in the United States and other NATO nations.

PITCH IMPERFECT — Salt Lake City’s pitch this week for the 2024 Republican National Convention seemed to be going well. There were helicopter rides, Wagyu steaks and tours of facilities built for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Then the local TV weatherman took the floor Tuesday at the host committee’s luncheon. After talking about the region’s ideal summer weather and low humidity compared to the three other finalist cities — Milwaukee, Nashville and Pittsburgh — he began showing footage of ping-pong ball-sized hail and flood waters gushing through the city as trash bins floated along.

He brought up the tornado of August 1999 — assuring the RNC site selection committee members that only one person died in the event.

Some in the audience watched “aghast,” said one member of the committee, which is tasked with selecting the city that will host the party’s next presidential nominating convention. The member, who asked not to be identified, chuckled recounting the presentation — as did three other people present at the luncheon.

The Salt Lake City weather pitch wasn’t the only wrinkle in the RNC’s convention city selection process in recent days. Pittsburgh’s prospects suddenly nosedived. Nashville’s odds skyrocketed. A location announcement for the GOP’s summer 2024 convention isn’t expected to come until the RNC summer meeting in August, when the full body will likely vote to affirm the site selection committee’s decision.

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