Politicians Are Using Omicron as an Excuse to Return to their Autocratic Ways

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Since the start of the pandemic, governors around the country have often struggled to appear to be doing something to stem COVID-19, regardless of whether that something was well advised. The latest example comes from New York’s new Gov. Kathy Hochul, who issued a declaration of disaster emergency that gives her and her administration broad powers.

Is this an instance of prudent precaution or just more government overreach? The answer is important since New York’s COVID-19 interventions have often been counterproductive. The last emergency declaration, in effect between March 7, 2020 and June 24, 2021, enabled then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to impose hundreds of executive orders that micromanaged small businesses and health care and prohibited local governments from making their own rules.

New York’s Executive Law authorizes the governor to issue a state declaration of disaster emergency if she “finds that a disaster has occurred or may be imminent for which local governments are unable to respond adequately.”

The declaration allows the governor to suspend any state statute, regulation or rule if compliance with it would hinder disaster response. It also gives the state health commissioner authority to activate the Surge and Flex Health Care Coordination System, which organizes the pandemic response of all hospitals statewide, including limiting elective procedures and reassigning beds to different uses.

Many commentators have attributed the new declaration to fears of the Omicron viral variant that emerged in southern Africa. The new variant contains dozens of worrisome mutations, many on the spike protein that determines infectiousness. The governor tweeted that Omicron has not been detected in New York (or anywhere else in America) but “is coming.”

The governor may be right. But since no one knows if Omicron will be more transmissible or virulent than earlier variants or if it will evade vaccine and natural immunity, declaring an emergency based on its existence seems premature.

In fact, the governor’s executive order does not mention Omicron. It finds “that a disaster has occurred in New York State, for which the affected local governments are unable to respond adequately” (emphasis added).

What is the evidence for this?

Hochul claims that COVID-19 transmission rates are the highest seen since April 2020. Actually, new cases per 100,000 were twice as high on Jan. 12, 2021, as now. New York’s seven-day moving average of cases per 100,000 bottomed out in late June, began a slow rise at the end of July, plateaued in September and resumed rising between late October and the present.

New York City case rates remain substantially below those of the rest of the state, most notably Western New York, and other large states. Rates are near average in the state’s other populous regions, such as Long Island and mid-Hudson Valley. The 7-day percentage of tests positive—a gauge of high transmission— has been steady in New York since mid-August and has only been high in limited parts of the state.

Hochul also cited rising rates of COVID-19 hospital admissions over the past month. New York’s seven-day moving average of admissions per 100,000 population has been rising but is only slightly higher than in September. New COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 are one-fifth the last peak, in January, and one-tenth the spring 2020 peak.

Read the full article at the New York Post.