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Opinion: The Omicron surge triggers parental PTSD over schools

Alhambra High School students walk off campus after the first day of school following winter break on Jan. 3.
Alhambra High School students walk off campus after the first day of school following winter break on Monday.
(Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022 — yet another new year that feels strangely like March 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

When this newsletter last landed in your inbox on Dec. 18, I expressed concern that after the holiday break, we might find ourselves in yet another COVID-19 surge, this one driven by seasonality and the new Omicron variant. Three weeks later, the y-axis on our daily case charts has been updated for the new year because the one we were using in 2021 topped out at around 70,000 (we reported 140,000 new cases on Tuesday, more than twice the old daily record for the state).

Trust me on this one: I so wish I was wrong.

Sadly, there are signs this surge caught us on our heels. Deaths so far have remained low, but that metric is the ultimate lagging indicator. (Case in point: On March 31 last year, the seven-day average of new daily cases in California was about 2,600, down from the mid-January peak of more than 44,000 — but 150 people a day were still dying.) We found out the hard way early in the pandemic that testing, testing, testing is key to living safely with this virus, but as The Times Editorial Board complained this week, thousands of public school students are still waiting for those free rapid tests the state said they would get before the end of winter break — and for the record, my kids were given their tests on Friday, at the end of Alhambra Unified’s first week back in class.

So what does this mean for us? Politicians have already taken the widespread business closures of 2020 off the table, and for good reason — those are blunt instruments more suited to a time when vaccines were nonexistent or scarce, and when flimsy pieces of cloth were considered serviceable substitutes for the higher-quality masks that needed to be set aside for healthcare workers. They’ve also promised to keep schools open. Hooray.

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But say the popular prognosis for us in this Omicron surge — that we’ll get through this without too much trouble, because this variant, though more contagious, is less virulent — is off. Say deaths start marching up and hospitals fill to the point that non-COVID patients are not a priority. Say that panic starts to set in, and public health officials need to trip one of the “circuit breakers” at their disposal to ease the burden on healthcare workers.

Something would have to close — and as a father with a mild case of PTSD from a full school year of remote Zoom education, I would bet that classrooms close before commerce, again.

Don’t say this is an unreasonable fear: Last year, parents and children across the state watched businesses get the green light to reopen, even as schools remained closed, and even as leaders insisted that keeping cases and deaths down was their priority so schools could reopen.

I’ll say it again: I so wish I am wrong.

Now, lighter fare: the implosion of American democracy. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) says a year after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, democracy is on every ballot. The attack could have been contained to that one day, but the Republicans’ historical revisionism of what happened one year ago has accelerated the truth decay that began the moment former President Trump declared his 2017 inaugural crowd was much bigger than what we saw, says the editorial board. Readers debate whether Trump should be charged with a crime, exactly what to call the insurrection (was it terrorism? a riot?) and how to snuff out the Big Lie.

Of course there’s a California connection to the insurrection, and you don’t have to look back that far. In the 1990s, California was a hotbed of racist, out-in-the-open fear-mongering over Mexican immigrants waging a “reconquista” of California by replacing white Americans. There was Proposition 187 in 1994, uniformed guards hired by local Republicans to patrol mostly Latino neighborhoods in the 1988 election, and an ousted GOP peddling voter fraud conspiracy theories in 1990. “Trump’s Big Lie — and its capacity to elicit violence — is inseparable from those biases,” writes Jean Guerrero. “Ahead of the 2016 election, Trump falsely claimed there was a big problem of ‘illegal immigrants’ voting, another way of stoking ‘replacement’ psychosis.” L.A. Times

The day of the insurrection, Rep. Kevin McCarthy called the violence “un-American” and put responsibility on Trump. Before the month was over, the House’s top Republican went down to Mar-a-Lago to smooth things over with the ex-president, part of a mind-boggling display of GOP revisionism in the year after the Capitol attack, writes Robin Abcarian: “The noxious gases had barely dissipated, the broken glass barely swept away when Republican revisionism began: Yes, a handful of people died and dozens of law enforcement officers were seriously injured in hand-to-hand combat described as ‘medieval,’ but it wasn’t Trump’s fault. Maybe the rioters weren’t even pro-Trump.” L.A. Times

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Who should hold Trump accountable for Jan. 6? President Biden delivered an appropriately pointed speech in the U.S. Capitol to mark Jan. 6 in which he dismantled the former president’s lies about the election and laid bare the absurdity of claims of fraud — but he’s not the one who should hold Trump accountable. Neither is it Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, who brings a professionalism to his job that his critics would have him set aside to go after Trump more forcefully. No, says columnist Jackie Calmes, the responsibility for defeating Trumpism and the Big Lie is a collective one: “Research the candidates on your ballots, whether they’re running for county clerk or Congress. Determine whether they’ve ever denied or questioned Trump’s defeat. If they have, vote against them. Vote like our democracy depends on it. Because it does.” L.A. Times

Is it OK to gloat over anti-vaxxer Kelly Ernby’s death from COVID-19? The short answer is no — a 46-year-old rising star among Orange County Republicans died, and her family and friends are mourning her, just as any other human with loved ones deserves to be mourned. But Ernby railed against vaccine mandates at a time when refusing shots means prolonging the pandemic and putting lives at risk, so her death has elicited snide comments online. “Why do we live in a world where people let their politics make their decisions for them rather than relying on science or data or expertise?” writes Nicholas Goldberg. “How have people become so untethered from reality that they believe in QAnon or that President Biden stole the 2020 election — or that vaccines are a liberal scam? How have we lost our common shared belief in facts and reality?” L.A. Times

Stay in touch.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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