DANIEL VAUGHAN: Politicians are behind the curve (again) on post-pandemic life

The Biden administration has continued to politicize the reopening of America as we near the end of the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19, most recently by holding back on updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These aren’t general reopening guidelines, mind you. These are guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans who face little to no threat from China’s novel coronavirus.

Let’s remember where we are for a moment. The CDC says that more than 90 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered nationwide. Of those, more than 30 million people have had both doses of the vaccine, and nearly 60 million have received at least one dose, giving them some level of immunity.

If you measure only the age-18-and-above adult population, more than 10% of the country is fully vaccinated, and nearly 25% has had at least one dose.

According to the same CDC figures, we’ve had nearly 29 million unique, confirmed cases of COVID-19. So now, we’ve reached the point where more people have been fully vaccinated than have had the disease. It’s taken a year to get that many cases, and a few months to get that many vaccinations out of the door.

We’re rapidly approaching the end of the pandemic as a public health crisis, because the reason for lockdowns and other restrictions was to protect hospitals from getting flooded with cases. That was the entire theory behind “flattening the curve.”

If hospitals are no longer endangered, there’s not a single public health justification for lockdowns or other restrictions. With hospitalizations currently plummetting and no single variant of COVID-19 seeming to pose a health risk, it makes sense that some states are completely reopning right now.

In truth, however, none of the CDC guidelines or any of these restrictions or lockdowns matter. At least, they don’t matter in terms of moving public behavior. Just whether or not a state can hit you with criminal charges.

At the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020, I argued that the American public had already instituted its own lockdown before anyone in government had even acknowledged reality on the coronavirus. The first lockdowns began in the U.S. in California on March 19, 2020, and rippled out across the rest of the country over the next days and weeks.

However, the U.S. economy had already entered a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research says that the United States entered a recession in February due to consumer activity late that month and in the first days of March — weeks ahead of lockdowns from even the most ardent governors in America.

In other words, the American people fully understood the potential threat in front of them. They acted accordingly, and their governments have played catch-up for the rest of the pandemic. The same was true when states began reopening in May. The people had already started taking action well before their leaders had done a thing.

We’re in a similar situation now.

Again, don’t look to governors and political leaders. They’re always behind the ball when it comes to facing reality.

You don’t have to believe me. Look, again, at the early economic data. The Wall Street Journal reports that businesses are scrambling to figure out what consumers will do next. In boardrooms across America, businesses are saying the same thing: “There were nearly 500 mentions of the phrase ‘pent up demand’ on public corporate conference calls in February.”

That phrase barely cracks the meter in normal months, but now, that and “reopening” dominate the conversation, while the Biden administration and CDC play politics and tell people what they can and can’t do. And according to business leaders who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, “any executive who is only beginning to answer these questions is far behind.”

The Biden administration and its experts are only just now starting to talk about these issues. Meanwhile, Americans are six months ahead: “A year of limited travel options has would-be revelers rushing to book trips to Las Vegas,” the WSJ reports. “Caesars Entertainment executives said last month that casino bookings are up 20% from a month earlier.”

Meanwhile, brands like Lysol and stores like Target are planning for either reduced sales or a shift in purchasing patterns as people shift into post-pandemic lifestyles. And the Biden administration and public health officials are just now debating topics that businesses and normal Americans have planned for six months down the road.

The CDC guidelines don’t matter because they’re already out-of-date. There’s nothing the CDC could produce that would change American behavior at this point.

Businesses will adhere to whatever those guidelines say in hopes of avoiding legal liability. But doing something because of potential liability and because it’s what people want are two separate things.

We didn’t know what to expect when we did an initial reopening in May 2020. And we don’t know what things are going to look like at the end of April 2021, when most American adults will have had a vaccine if they want it. But we do know this: post-pandemic life is already here for tens of millions of Americans.

And just like every other stage of the pandemic, our public health leaders are behind the curve. Again.