Omicron Gains Momentum And Democrats Are Not Closing Things This Time

BOSTON. Democrats have a message for an omicron-flooded America: vaccinate and carry on.

From New York to California, Democratic mayors and governors are fighting to keep schools and businesses open with a persistence never seen before during the pandemic.

In Chicago, where a conflict with a teachers’ union led to the closure of the nation’s third-largest school system, Mayor Laurie Lightfoot criticized teachers for not reporting in their classrooms and received tacit support from the White House.

“Enough is enough. We stand firm,” Lightfoot told Chicagoans last week.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti swear in at the Super Bowl. will continue in Los Angeles even though the number of Covid-19 cases has increased. Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared “end of medical emergency” and said that unvaccinated people are to blame if they get sick. Even President Joe Biden urged Americans last month not to cancel their vacation travel plans.

Democrats went further than most Republicans in closing businesses, enforcing social distancing, and requiring masks to contain the spread of the virus – and were initially politically rewarded for their caution. But as the country enters its third year of the pandemic in the grip of yet another wave fueled by options, blue-state leaders, faced with exhausted and frustrated voters, have lost patience with stringent restrictions. Some argue that this early pandemic tactic has caused financial damage to people and triggered a mental health crisis among isolated schoolchildren.

Rather than face the anger of Republican voters, Democrats must now grapple with left-wing critics who accuse their own party of selling public health to prop up the economy. Unions representing teachers, medical professionals and airline employees say governments are not providing enough tests and masks and that leaders should consider short-term closings until the Omicron surge stops.

Nonetheless, Democratic leaders remember that Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governors’ run in November, thanks in part to reaching out to disappointed parents, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was closer to defeat than most people expected and left. referring to the pandemic for an intimate conversation

“There is a real social impact that I think was not part of the messaging. [until recently]”Said Doug Rubin, a seasoned strategist who has worked with several prominent Massachusetts Democrats, including former Governor Deval Patrick, and Tom Styer’s 2020 nomination for president. “The Democrats saw that this had political implications. In Virginia and New Jersey, they saw the potential negative consequences of ignoring some of these issues. ”

Democrats have also gained more confidence that the economy will remain open as Covid-19 vaccines become widely available and early evidence suggests that Omicron, while more contagious, has lower death rates and severe hospitalizations.

The frustration over Covid is deepening over the next two years, and more Americans seem willing to take more risks in exchange for keeping things open. Anthony Fauci, Chief Country Expert for Infectious Diseases, last month confirmed the desire to “ensure the smooth running of our society” by cutting the recommended isolation period in half.

Six out of ten Americans surveyed in mid-December Monmouth University SurveyAs soon as the first cases of Omicron appeared in the US, 63 percent of Democrats said they felt “plagued” by the impact of Covid on their daily lives.

Governors in both red and blue states have watched their approval ratings plummet throughout the pandemic. A poll in Monmouth found Delta is downgrading Covid approval ratings for governors in states that Biden won in 2020.

“A year ago, most Democratic voters were ahead of the governors, saying, ‘You are not blocking enough,’” Patrick Murray, director of the University of Monmouth Poll Institute, said in an interview. “A lot of these people are now saying it doesn’t matter at the moment and we see how the governors react to it and acknowledge the mood of their own base.”

While Omicron is taking Covid-19 cases to the next level and besieging hospitals across the country, the governors of the blue states are again calling on their National Guard and urging the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves. But they also acknowledge the frustration of those who followed the rules, expecting Covid to end by now – only to see Omicron spread quickly.

Democratic leaders “see the election coming up, they see the backlash,” said Bob Blendon, an expert on polls and political strategy at Harvard Kennedy School. “They cannot close anything, and society does not tolerate serious upheavals in people’s lives. People have run out of patience. “

This does not mean that Democratic governors are in complete agreement with each other. Those living in states such as California and New York still require masks, as well as vaccines for government and healthcare workers. Newsom urged students to get vaccinated next school year in California.

Democratic leaders in more conservative states, such as Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Kentucky Governor Andy Besheer, have long been forced to defend public health without closings or strict regulations. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer avoided compulsory statewide masks, although she warned before Christmas that “each of us is likely to be exposed at some point,” urging unvaccinated Michigan residents to get vaccinated.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak – one of the most vulnerable Democrats to be nominated for re-election this fall – recently rejected the idea of ​​transferring government vaccination mandates to Las Vegas while maintaining the requirement to wear masks in high-prevalence areas.

“I do not foresee [a vaccine mandate] will happen in the future, barring any major disasters or other serious options, ”Sisolak recently told NBC’s Nevada subsidiary. “We left a lot of that to private business.”

Meanwhile, Republicans say Democrats are simply too slow to recognize changes in public opinion.

“It is clear that a majority of voters currently support the Republican stance of caution, but not overly restrictiveness,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist and former Mitt Romney aide who worked in the Massachusetts governor’s office and campaigned for Romney’s presidential campaign. “Democrats are late. If they continue to impose draconian restrictions closer to election day, it could hurt parties up and down the ballots. ”

As cases rise after the holidays, Democrats are now facing opposition from their allies. Teacher unions outside Chicago are asking local leaders to cancel classes as more staff and students fell ill last week and educators in San Francisco and Oakland are planning informal truancy.

Trade unions have also criticized the Biden administration for shortening isolation and quarantine periods, accusing the president of being more concerned with the economy than with science.

“We said we wanted to hear better quarantine guidelines from healthcare providers, not corporate America pushing for shorter periods due to staff shortages,” Sarah Nelson, president of the Flight Attendants Association, said in a statement, adding that “we cannot allow pandemic fatigue to lead to solutions that extend the life of a pandemic or disadvantage workers in politics. ”

But the Democratic leaders continue. Lightfoot said Sunday that parents in Chicago who want schools to stay open are helping her while trying to reassure families and teachers that classrooms are safe.

“Well, I think we have the leverage, which is that we have the will of the people,” Lightfoot said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “The parents are outraged and they are reporting their outrage to the teachers union. This is a very different dynamic than ever before. “

As Democratic governors take a more assertive approach to keeping schools and businesses open, former Democratic Governors Association operatives argue that party leaders are not imitating their Red state counterparts, some of whom routinely ditch masks and vaccines. They say Democrats continue to focus on precautions and vaccinations, allowing residents and businesses to continue their daily lives.

“You see a realistic acknowledgment of people’s frustration with everything related to the pandemic,” said Corey Platt, a former political director of the Democratic Governors’ Association. “It’s not so much about changing messages as understanding where things are and focusing on safety and mitigating the impact of a pandemic when you hear the exact opposite from other people.”

Jared Leopold, who worked for Virginia Senator Jennifer McClellan during the Democratic governor primary, said Democrats now need to lay out what the next phase of the pandemic will look like in a country increasingly wanting to remain open.

“It would make sense if people in the 2022 campaign told their constituents about the challenges they face,” Leopold said. “But also provide a clear path forward.”

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