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Aggressive steps needed to confront Omicron

The steps announced Tuesday by President Biden will come too late to allay another surge in COVID-19 cases. Only time will tell whether the steps to deal with it are also too little.

Meanwhile in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont’s resistance to again instituting mask-wearing mandates is understandable, but it is misplaced given the spike in infections resulting from the highly contagious Omicron variant. Return to mask mandates until this latest surge abates, governor.

“You can have mandates, but what’s really important is people understand themselves how important it is to do the right thing,” Lamont said at a Monday news conference. “So I’m not positive yet another mandate will make a big difference there, unless circumstances radically change.”

Look around while shopping or going out to eat and it is clear that many people are not persuaded that wearing a mask is “the right thing.” As for “circumstances radically chang(ing),” that has already happened.

The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. caused by the Omicron variant was confirmed Dec. 1 in California. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the Omicron variant accounted for 73% of new infections last week. The rapidity with which the variant has spread and become dominant is stunning — and alarming. Now that spread is likely to be supercharged by family holiday gatherings, in many cases of the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Preliminary data suggests that the Omicron variant makes fewer people seriously ill than the Delta and other earlier strains. The bad news is that it is infecting so many people so quickly that even if just a small percentage of them get very sick it could still overwhelm hospitals. Omicron has shown a greater ability than all prior strains to breakthrough the vaccines, though they continue to offer effective protection against severe sickness, with those receiving a booster shot having the greatest protection.

The unvaccinated are far more likely to get dangerously ill, to be hospitalized and to die. This is now largely a crisis of the unvaccinated. Their refusal to get the shot is why emotionally and mentally exhausted medical personnel now face another increase in cases.

At his press briefing, Lamont urged more people to get tested so that they do not unknowingly spread the virus during church services and holiday gatherings. But in many cases testing lines are long. Testing has not ramped up to meet the new threat.

Some states, among them New Jersey, New Hampshire and Washington, have sent or will be sending free COVID-19 testing kits to the homes of residents who request them. Connecticut should follow suit. Right now, finding these test kits is difficult as stores quickly sell out.

The situation should improve as part of the federal actions announced by President Biden. The president said the government will be buying 500 million of the rapid test kits for public distribution. But that won’t happen until at least mid-January.

Biden also said 1,000 medical military personnel will be deployed to hospitals as needed to help deal with a surge in cases. Again, only time will tell if that will be sufficient to meet the need.

In Connecticut, the editorial board would welcome a return to more frequent COVID press briefings by Gov. Lamont and his staff, at least until this latest uptick in cases eases. The conferences provide the public information and reassurance as to how the state is dealing with the situation and offer the news media the chance to get its questions answered directly from those in charge.

And the board agrees with the administration’s intent to keep schools open. Returning to remote learning should be a last resort. Past experience shows it does not work for most students and the lack of socialization can cause long-term harm.

All of us are weary of dealing with this prolonged pandemic. This was the holiday season when the crisis was supposed to be largely behind us. Clearly that is not the case.

Despite being tired of it all, we cannot afford to become discouraged and complacent. Wearing masks, frequent hand washing, and practicing social distancing can deny the COVID-19 virus the opportunity to spread. And along with a flu shot, such steps can deter the seasonal flu. We don’t need twin public health crises.

And, once again, we plead with the unvaccinated to get vaccinated against COVID.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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