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Still Not Over-- Not Even Close

This morning, Hannah Allam reported that over the past two years very far right anti-mandate activists "galvanized a broad cross section of political conservatives by melding disparate agendas into one fuzzy call to 'fight tyranny.' By now, most of their big demonstrations look like a right-wing soup, featuring Trump and MAGA logos, self-styled militia insignia, Confederate flags, references to the debunked QAnon movement, and Christian nationalist prayers... Extremism trackers say the past two years of fighting pandemic restrictions have given far-right groups a new generation of recruits and a blueprint for taking the lead in conservative organizing. The midterm season, they warn, brings a heightened risk of political violence, as armed groups build on those gains to push deeper into the mainstream... Now, with the lifting of most mask and vaccine requirements, Gabriel and her far-right backers are mobilizing the networks they’ve built over the past two years toward a new goal: November’s midterm elections... The nonstop focus on grievances, researchers say, has created a tinderbox of disenchanted Americans who view themselves as foot soldiers in a struggle against mandates and other perceived attacks on personal liberties. Many right-wing politicians and media personalities are stoking the outrage in pursuit of a 'red wave' in November."

Earlier in the week, Ed Young altered Atlantic readers that Congress had just "nixed $15 billion in coronavirus funding. The decision, he wrote, "is catastrophic, and as the White House has noted, its consequences will unfurl quickly. Next week, the government will have to cut shipments of monoclonal-antibody treatments by a third. In April, it will no longer be able to reimburse health-care providers for testing, vaccinating, or treating millions of uninsured Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated and infected. Come June, it won’t be able to support domestic testing manufacturers. It can’t buy extra doses of antiviral pills or infection-preventing treatments that immunocompromised people are banking on but were already struggling to get. It will need to scale back its efforts to improve vaccination rates in poor countries, which increases the odds that dangerous new variants will arise. If such variants arise, they’ll likely catch the U.S. off guard, because surveillance networks will have to be scaled back too. Should people need further booster shots, the government won’t have enough for everyone." That's our Congress!

The White House had asked for $22.5 billion and Congress cut that back to $15.6 billion. Then conservative balked at that and are demanding an accounting of all money spent by all 50 states so far before they agree to any more funding-- and fuck anyone who gets sick. The Omicron BA.2 variant in blowing up in Europe and Asia and starting to make headway here as well-- just as the entire country has thrown away mask mandates and other precautions. Here wastewater surveillance shows a major uptick in cases that will quickly turn into an emergency. If it does, the BA.2 variant should be renamed the GOP variant, since a number of Republican senators whose votes are needed to pass the funding in that chamber are "skeptical about delivering any more Covid cash, insisting that the White House needs to be clearer about exactly what it needs."

On Monday then-White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients said that if Congress fails to act of the funding, the consequences will be "severe"-- like this.

Three days later, Politico reported that Pelosi went nuts on her own party in a private Democratic conference meeting after Biden sent Xavier Becerra and Anthony Fauci over to the House to explain the urgency. This morning Elaine Godfrey did for Atlantic readers what Fauci and Becerra did for Democratic members of Congress-- explained the urgency that Republicans either don't care about or want to bring it on to plague the Biden administration, more of their fucking game-playing with public safety. We all want to move on from the pandemic-- but that's up to the pandemic, not us... unless we want to cast caution to the wind, the way GOP elected officials do. And, ironically, they think they can blame the unpreparedness to fight what's coming on Biden.

"Last week," she wrote, "lawmakers passed a massive spending bill without any additional funding for COVID-19 relief, despite White House pleas for more. Democrats would like to fulfill the administration’s request. But Republicans have taken the position that Congress has already done enough. 'We don’t need COVID funding,' GOP Representative Randy Feenstra of Iowa told me. 'Most people would say we’re done. We have more issues with inflation than COVID right now.' Politically, Republicans feel safe making this argument. New cases of COVID have been decreasing for weeks, and hospitalizations are on the decline too. Most cities that had mask mandates have gotten rid of them. Many Americans tell pollsters that they’re ready for the country to move on; people are focused on other issues, such as Russia’s war in Ukraine and rising gas prices. But more than 1,000 people are still dying every day from COVID. Experts predict that the new BA.2 subvariant could be the dominant strain in the United States in a matter of weeks. In other words, refusing to approve new funding is a risk. 'People want us to be prepared in advance and stabilized,' the Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me. 'Republicans are voting against both.' If COVID gets much worse over the next few months, Democrats will rush to blame the GOP, especially if Republican members strike down a stand-alone vote on COVID relief. 'They’re forcing a situation that’s going to make it worse for them' in November, Lake said. Of course, by election season, a spring debate over COVID funding will be a distant memory. If a new variant has overwhelmed the country by then, the partisan discourse will probably center on mask mandates and vaccines instead. Perhaps Republicans are right to bet that voters won’t punish them for blocking new funding."

Republicans, on the whole, believe that Congress has already spent enough money combatting COVID in the past two years. “Everybody obviously is tired of all this, and I don’t mean that in a dismissive way,” Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma told me. “The administration’s requests are legitimate, but we have the money; we don’t need to go deeper into debt.” Using up resources that have already been allocated is more important, GOP members argue. When I asked Representative Ron Estes of Kansas whether the possibility of a surge in cases due to a new variant would change Republicans’ views on funding, he told me that it’s “one of those things that we’ll have to see how it plays forward.” Estes also suggested that more Americans have natural immunity now, after so many contracted the most recent Omicron variant.
To pass COVID relief on its own, rather than tucked into some larger package, Democrats would likely have to pair any new funding with spending cuts elsewhere to get it through both chambers of Congress. “All epidemics trigger the same dispiriting cycle,” Yong wrote earlier this week. “First, panic: As new pathogens emerge, governments throw money, resources, and attention at the threat. Then, neglect: Once the danger dwindles, budgets shrink and memories fade.”
In Washington, D.C., the easiest thing to do is nothing. If lawmakers fail to pass any more money for testing or research or monoclonal-antibody treatments before another variant is raging through the United States, their neglect won’t be a surprise. But their panic might come too late.

From the first days of the pandemic, I wrote that it would take between a million and two million American deaths before conservatives would take COVID seriously. The U.S. will probably cross the million reported deaths mark in a couple of weeks. Today we're at 997,227, which counts the 721 deaths on Friday.

Countries where the new variant is already exploding. These are new daily cases reported on Friday:

  • South Korea- 407,017

  • Germany- 284,050

  • Vietnam- 163,174

  • France- 97,579

  • UK- 90,349

  • Italy- 77,994

  • Japan- 55,183

  • Netherlands- 54,216

  • Austria- 51,112

A member of the Blue America team-- triple vaccinated and masked-- had to take a short flight for a family emergency this week. He's now quarantined with COVID. Before the end of the month, expect to see numbers here start to climb towards caseloads in South Korea, Germany and Vietnam. Fauci: "I would not be surprised if, in the next few weeks, we do see an uptick in cases. The really important issue is that, will that be manifested in an increase in severe disease that would lead to hospitalization?"

Remember a couple months ago when I told you I was getting my second booster (4th shot)? This week both Pfizer and Moderna asked the FDA for emergency use authorization for an additional booster because of waning immunity. Pfizer is asking authorization for people over 65, while Moderna wants it for all adults and Pfizer wants to just start with a neon over 65. Don't wait; just go get it.

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