I see that local Republicans are again calling to end all the coronavirus restrictions and reopen the state, effective immediately.
“The time to move our state forward is now,” said Rep. J.T. Wilcox and Sen. John Braun, the state House and Senate GOP leaders, respectively.
“It is time for the governor to end the state of emergency he declared nearly 460 days ago … The only solution left now is for the emergency to be over,” they said.
OK, it’s possible I’ve finally gone bonkers from playing too much lockdown solitaire, but … I actually agree with this. After a pandemic of epic wrongness, local Republicans, like the proverbial blind squirrel, have stumbled into a nut.
The vaccines have proven to be such a game-changer that it really is time to reopen the state and head back to “normal.” More on this in a minute.
First, though, it can’t go unmentioned that the Republicans have been making this same call to “reopen now” for at least 400 days of the 460-day-long crisis. State House Republicans alone put out 20 different press statements during a 13-month period going back to late April of 2020 decrying the state’s coronavirus response and demanding that it end.
“The threat has faded,” four state Republican legislators claimed about COVID in a lawsuit against the state’s restrictions — filed on May 5, 2020, 400 days ago. “The emergency has been contained.”
You can’t get much more wrong than that. Because since then, that faded threat killed 5,000 additional Washingtonians, and more than half a million additional Americans. In hindsight, back on May 5, 2020, the pandemic was only about 15% of the way along its current deadly course.
Yet they kept tilting at the wrongitude. “Rep. calls on governor to roll back his economic shutdown,” said a state GOP news release, dated Nov. 20, 2020 — when we clearly had already been swept into the virus’ deadliest third wave.
Anyway, you get the drift. They’ve been like those stock guys who every day predict a bear market is nigh so sell sell sell! Once every five years or so, they absolutely nail it.
It was the other side, Gov. Jay Inslee, who got the big picture right. He listened to the epidemiologists, who suffered withering criticism a year ago in the pandemic’s early days for being scare mongers. But it turns out they predicted fairly accurately from the start how widely the disease might spread, and how many it could kill. They said it could be 10 times worse than the flu — and at 600,000 now lost to COVID-19 compared to 60,000 dead in a bad flu year, it’s been 10 times worse than the flu (so far).
That said, something has definitely shifted. The vaccines have changed everything.
King County’s finding last week that a remarkable 97 percent of all new COVID cases occur among the unvaccinated is a watershed. Now that vaccines have been widely and easily available for several months, it means the pandemic may be effectively over for most anyone who wants it to be.
The feds report that 70.6 percent of Washington residents age 18 and up have had at least one shot, and 89.4 percent of those over 65. That’s fantastic and should be celebrated. It’s also near the benchmark the state set for reopening (the state uses ages 16 and up). So it seems that state Republicans, implacably wrong for months, are now suddenly right.
Yes, those who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons will have to be super-cautious. There still need to be restrictions in high-risk places such as nursing homes. But the state shouldn’t force the nearly three-fourths who are getting vaccinated to sit and wait while we hope a lottery or some other cajolery motivates the recalcitrant.
The long-suffering restaurants especially need to get moving. They’ll reopen slowly anyway due to trouble finding staff — but that process ought to start as soon as possible, not on an arbitrary date weeks from now.
“I keep seeing people writing eulogies for the pandemic,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, the chief health officer for Seattle and King County, warned me last week. “It’s probably got some more surprises for us.”
This caution is wise. The pandemic has made a fool of hubris at every turn. It may well be making a fool of me right now.
But the science has been basically correct all along, and so it’s also likely correct now about the dominance of the vaccines. If we have a setback, such as with a variant, we can always change course. We followed the science back when it showed the virus was in charge (well, many of us did); we need to also trust it when it’s signaling strongly that we’ve got the upper hand.
It was bound to happen eventually — that the stopped clocks of the pandemic would show the right time. Doesn’t change that they have a strong point, which is that it’s now time to open back up.
Correction: This column was changed to clarify that the federal CDC is reporting vaccination data for the adult population as the age bracket of 18 and up, while the state is using age 16 and up. This means the federal data and state data differ on whether Washington state has reached the benchmark of 70 percent of the adult population initiating vaccination.