COVID Is Still Rampant, But Big Pharma Will Soon Charge for Shots and Treatments

Back when this whole COVID thing started with the first wave of closures and lockdowns, I offered a prediction of sorts:

“How long will it be before some rich person goes on TV and starts quacking about ‘getting the country going again’ because they’re losing money? Flash-forward to this past Sunday morning, and wouldn’t you know it, some self-satisfied capitalist was on one of the cable networks arguing that ‘low-risk,’ low-wage workers (who are the economy even as they seldom benefit from the economy) should go back to work and just let the virus ‘burn through’ their ranks.”

That was March of 2020. In the intervening years, the engine of capitalism has sputtered and coughed in some areas, roared in others, and managed throughout to maintain its position as The First Priority above all else. This supremacy was announced once again this past Thursday on the pages of The Wall Street Journal: “The Biden administration is planning for an end to its practice of paying for Covid-19 shots and treatments, shifting more control of pricing and coverage to the healthcare industry in ways that could generate sales for companies — and costs for consumers — for years to come.”

This is the kind of announcement one expects to see after a pandemic has been well and truly contained. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is certainly making noises like the COVID show is finally over. “Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced key changes to its nationwide Covid-19 guidelines,” reports CNN. “Among them was the end of required quarantine after someone is exposed to a close contact with the coronavirus. The CDC also revised isolation guidance for people infected with Covid-19.”

The eternally grim state of national COVID testing makes any numbers nebulous, but you have to start somewhere, and so we will start with the CDC. According to their accounting, the daily average of new infections stands at more than 93,000. The average daily number of new hospitalizations is almost 6,000. The average daily number of deaths is just shy of 400. It may be “residual brain fog,” says recently recovered COVID patient Charles P. Pierce of Esquire, “but this doesn’t seem to be the time to relax restrictions?”

Indeed. Much of the nation is broiling, burning or drowning in our annual summertime dance with climate doom, but the kids go back to school soon — from kindergarten to college — and winter is coming. President Biden and the Democrats could use some good news to pacify a profoundly grumpy electorate on the eve of the November midterms, but there will be hell to pay if this thing blows up again before the vote.

At about the same time as the CDC was handing down its new directives, CDC director Rochelle P. Walensky began railing into press microphones about the shabby job done by the CDC during the bulk of the pandemic. “To be frank,” said Walensky, “we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications.” Her demand for strict new guidelines and practices comes just in time for the agency to bungle the growing monkeypox crisis.

Live music and performances are available again, but are sparsely attended. The pages of the elite press are filled with dueling perspectives on what to do next: the “I will continue to wear my mask and practice distancing” people vs. the “I’ve had it / kiss my ass, COVID / I want to live” people. In between are most of the rest of us, as unsure of the future as ever and twice as wary. Katherine J. Wu reports for The Atlantic:

This new relaxation of COVID rules is one of the most substantial to date — but it wasn’t spurred by a change in conditions on the ground. A slew of Omicron subvariants are still burning across most states; COVID deaths have, for months, remained at a stubborn, too-high plateau. The virus won’t budge. Nor will Americans. So the administration is shifting its stance instead. No longer will people be required to quarantine after encountering the infected, even if they haven’t gotten the recommended number of shots; schools and workplaces will no longer need to screen healthy students and employees, and guidance around physical distancing is now a footnote at best. All of this is happening as the Northern Hemisphere barrels toward fall — a time when students cluster in classrooms, families mingle indoors, and respiratory viruses go hog wild — the monkeypox outbreak balloons, and the health-care system remains strained.

For capitalism, however, it all makes perfect sense. COVID is not done, but we will act as if it is and keep a steady stream of new infections flowing into the health care industry, which is about to start charging us for all these treatments. They win, again.