Omicron – A Nisayon Ha-Seichel/Test of Rationality
I am triple-vaccinated, follow COVID rules, strongly reject anti-vaccination talk and especially the many conspiracy theories surrounding COVID – yet I am totally baffled by the measures taken by many local governments and institutions regarding the Omicron variant.
When this new variant was announced on the news approximately a month ago, the first and most obvious piece of information I wanted to know (and that everyone should want to know) was how those who were infected with Omicron were faring – were they hospitalized, were any of them intubated, and how many died? This is the most basic and relevant data pertaining to all things that are COVID.
Unfortunately, this information was not publicized for almost a week, well after we were told repeatedly about the new Omicron variant being highly contagious and possessing many mutations. Numerous infections are highly contagious, and mutation data per se is not of great help; it is the risk factor and danger that we need to know about most. It was clear that data about vaccine efficacy and actual spread rates would take time to collect, but why was basic and critical information about the health of those infected with Omicron not readily publicized? (As we know, the data subsequently informed us that the vast majority of Omicron infections were and remain quite mild – nothing like the previous COVID cases.)
My purpose is not to allege a conspiracy on the part of the media by withholding information, but rather to highlight that we had a case of “ikar chaser min ha-sefer” – the main point of the story was missing, and no one batted an eyelash and found it strange or demanded answers.
Now, we read about new mask mandates, closures, remote learning and further restrictions due to Omicron. One would expect to be told that this is the result of mass fatalities in the wake of this new variant. But, as we know, the number of fatalities in the United States from Omicron is one – yes, one – an unvaccinated middle-aged man in Texas with an underlying health condition. (This is a far cry from fully-vaccinated, young university students, and most other Americans, many of whom are now subject to the new mandates.)
Out of over 650,000 Omicron cases in the US, only one resulted in death. Every death is a tragedy, but when compared with an average of 3700 fatal car accidents in the US each day, an average of 261 deaths in the US each day from excessive alcohol use, and an average of 10 drowning deaths in the US each day, I am perplexed. If one Omicron death in a matter of a week or two prompts the imposition of drastic restrictions and closures, surely we must be consistent and ban the driving of cars, the sale of alcohol, and swimming, as these activities are responsible for tens, hundreds and thousands more times the number of fatalities than Omicron.
What is going on?
I fear that society has become mindless. The words “COVID” and “variant” have become a source of panic and hysteria, and people resort to the most severe and extreme measures “out of an abundance of caution” when these words are spoken, regardless of whether the level of actual health risk is far lower than most other things which do not stir us to ban and shut down.
Obviously, those who are at a higher level of risk need to take serious precautions, and the number of deaths from Omicron is likely to rise as time goes by. But the fact is that the numbers do not at all correspond with the measures being taken, and it is clear that hysteria and phobia have replaced rationality and reality. When private schools in the Northeast, whose students and faculty are often all vaccinated as per school requirements, rush to cancel classes due to Omicron, yet at the same time these schools feature and promote high-power contact sports in their gyms and stadiums, despite an average of 33 young Americans dying each day due to sports injuries, something is really off. Has all sense of balance and reason been abandoned?
As Jews, part of our divine mandate is to think critically and logically, rather than following the fads and -isms of the time. Avrohom Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu became who they were as a result of their willingness to think straightly and act correctly, not swayed by the wayward and irrational beliefs and behavior patterns of ancient pagan cultures. Is this not our calling as well?