Wen has become the Washington Post’s go-to analyst of the pandemic. I believe she frequently opines on it for CNN, as well. Here in the D.C. area, many liberals consider her views nearly authoritative.
Wen’s latest column argues that “we should lift [covid] restrictions now.” Her column comes with caveats, the most important of which is discussed below, and her rationale strikes me as odd — lifting the current restrictions would provide Americans with a respite in case restrictions need to be imposed against a new variant. But it’s still encouraging to see a leading liberal authority on the pandemic calling for the lifting of restrictions.
I assume Wen is sincere in offering her caveats and her rationale. It’s true, though, that without them Wen would alienate a portion of her readers and perhaps lose some of her status. As I said, liberals are only starting to turn against restrictions. (You can get a sense of leftist pushback against any liberal who departs from the ultra-cautious party line (i.e., “covid hawkery”) in this article by Matthew Yglesias and some of the comments.)
By urging an easing of restrictions in the name of paving the way to reimpose them later if a deadly variant emerges, Wen makes the case for an easing without upsetting covid hawks too much (or so might hope). It’s not the case I’d like to see her make, but any case for easing by a prominent liberal analyst is welcome, as far as I’m concerned.
I also believe that if restrictions are lifted it will be harder, not easier, to reimpose them if/when another serious variant emerges. As one of Ygliesias’ commenters wrote: “I feel like a bad liberal for saying this, but I’ve recently been pretty happy about living in a red state.”
Wen does continue to insist on the importance of vaccines. She writes:
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that unvaccinated people ages 65 and up are 52 times more likely to be hospitalized from covid-19 than those who are vaccinated and boosted. For those between ages 50 and 64, the difference is 46 times.
This information seems to be at odds with Minnesota data John presents here. But, as John says, his numbers “confirm that even if vaccination does not prevent one from contracting covid, it does give some protection against severe disease.” He characterizes the protection as “modest.” To me, it looks significant. Wen’s numbers, if accurate, show very significant protection.
This leads me to Wen’s most important caveat. She wants restrictions ended only for the vaccinated:
Keep vaccine requirements and drop everything else. The vaccinated, who have done everything right, should not have any restrictions placed on them; it’s not fair to them and it disincentivizes vaccination. . .Provide proof of vaccination, and you don’t need to mask, quarantine when exposed or test before traveling.
To me, the wisdom of this policy depends on how much risk the unvaccinated pose to others, especially to those who are vaccinated (and therefore have not assumed the risk of eschewing the vaccine). It’s not enough to show that the elderly pose a risk to themselves by not getting the vaccine. People should not be restricted for the purpose of “incentivizing” them to take better care of themselves.
Wen’s statistics do not speak to the risk the unvaccinated pose to others. Therefore, I don’t think she has made a case for limiting the lifting of covid restrictions to the vaccinated.
She makes a case, albeit not the best case, for lifting restrictions for the vast majority of us, however, and that’s a start.