by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As the pandemic has evolved and most Americans have sought vaccines for protection, and as those who chose to forgo vaccination became infected (often more than once), the risk that COVID-19 poses for most Americans has declined. It’s estimated that more than 90% of Americans have some level of immunity to COVID-19 through vaccination or prior infection.
Along with this wall of immunity, approaches adopted when we had few tools to prevent spread are no longer providing benefits that always justify their costs of social disruption, diminished classroom experiences, and economic drag.
But we’ve been slow to adapt our strategies to the evolving notions of risk. The CDC is soon expected to update its policies, moving away from national recommendations and instead tying to measures of local prevalence its guidance for the protective steps people should take. This community-by-community standard may not be enough. We’ve turned restrictions on but haven’t turned them off as conditions changed. In many cases, it’s because we’re still relying on the same metrics that we used at the start of the pandemic. These concepts for measuring risk have remained mostly fixed since that time, even as people acquired protections from the virus.
At the outset of the pandemic, we had a shared sense of the threat and a shared willingness to sacrifice a lot to deal with it. As the pandemic has evolved, and its burdens accumulated, that social compact has frayed. Now we need to shift from measures adopted collectively, to tactics taken individually by people who are judging their own individual risk against their degree of caution. This means we must accept more regional and local variation in measures adopted at the state level. The government’s role will be to make sure people have the tools they need to make those choices.