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Essential Politics: On the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic

A man with gray hair, wearing sunglasses and a dark suit and light blue tie, removes a black mask before microphones
President Biden removes his mask as he arrives to speak in the White House Rose Garden on July 27, 2022.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Until recently, President Biden was part of this exclusive club of which I am a member. No, it’s not the “PAWrents club.” It’s the “I have never tested positive for COVID-19 club.”

Like me, Biden dodged the virus for over two years. But last month he finally caught it.

I consider myself lucky and wonder how it’s possible to have never knowingly tested positive for the virus. Yes, I am cautious. But, like some of the rest of you, I have been more relaxed at a time two extremely contagious coronavirus subvariants are running rampant through the nation. Though I still work from home, I routinely travel on airplanes and attend indoor events — sometimes without a mask. Biden testing positive reminded me that no one, including the leader of the free world, can fully escape this pandemic.

Hello, besties. I’m Erin B. Logan. I am a reporter for the L.A. Times. I cover national politics. Today, we will briefly discuss the current state of the pandemic and the Biden administration’s response to it.

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The state of the pandemic and what’s next

At the beginning of the pandemic, a rise in coronavirus cases meant health and travel restrictions. But during this latest surge, normal life has largely been uninterrupted.

Yes, people are still testing positive. But vaccines and medication have proved a formidable defense at preventing death and keeping serious infections at bay.

People are still traveling and masks in public spaces are becoming increasingly rare, not just in California but also here in Washington. Citing the recent decline in cases, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer last week declined to reinstate a universal indoor mask mandate.

And though case counts are steadily dropping in jurisdictions across the country, experts warn that reinfections may heighten long-term health risks for those who catch the virus again. That is worrisome news at a time when the only vaccines available are tailored to the first iteration of the virus and is not stellar at holding up against reinfection.

A real-world study found that the protection from three doses of mRNA vaccine is only half as strong against Omicron compared with that against the Delta variant that preceded it, according to Times writer Melissa Healy. Lab studies also have shown that exposure to Omicron prompts the vaccinated immune system to pump out far fewer antibodies.

The Biden administration has already spent $3.2 billion to get 105 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children and adults in anticipation of an autumn booster campaign rollout. The Food and Drug Administration ordered these shots to be tailored to the Omicron subvariants, which are responsible for the majority of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So, hopefully, this will provide more protection and help us exit this unending pandemic.

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The view from Washington

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for an unannounced but widely anticipated and controversial visit sure to deepen U.S.-China tensions and fears of military conflict between the two superpowers, Times writers Stephanie Yang and David Pierson reported. Pelosi (D-San Francisco), an outspoken critic of Beijing, is the highest-ranking elected U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. The stop in Taiwan drew the ire of Beijing, which sees the trip as a challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the self-governed island.

— President Biden announced Monday that Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, a key plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, was killed in a CIA drone strike he ordered targeting the terrorist leader in Afghanistan, Times writer Eli Stokols reported. One of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Zawahiri worked closely with former Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and had led the group over the last decade since Bin Laden’s death. The 71-year-old Egyptian was killed in a drone strike at 6:18 a.m. on Sunday at a residential location in Kabul, which fell to the Taliban a year ago almost immediately after Biden ordered the last U.S. forces to withdraw — a development that many feared would lead to more terrorist activity in Afghanistan’s capital.

— America’s superpower brand was tarnished as former President Trump, who tried to overturn the 2020 election, teases a political comeback and Biden, the man who replaced him, struggles politically, Times writers Tracy Wilkinson and Noah Bierman reported. Many of the televisions in Washington’s embassies have been tuned to the Jan. 6 committee hearings and the barrage of testimony detailing Trump’s plot to subvert the will of the electorate with help from an angry mob of his supporters. But concern that America was adrift began increasing before the hearings, as Western allies saw the rise of nationalism and isolationism.

— The Supreme Court’s sharp turn to the right is reflected in new opinion polls that show Republicans to be overwhelmingly in favor of the court’s work and Democrats even more strongly opposed, Times writer David G. Savage reported. Last month, 74% of Republicans who were surveyed by the Gallup Organization said they approved of the high court, while only 13% of Democrats agreed. For most of the last 20 years, polls found most Americans approved of the Supreme Court, even as they looked unfavorably on the work of Congress and the president.

— On Tuesday, Kansas voters resoundingly rejected an effort to pass a constitutional amendment drafted by abortion opponents to overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling that the Kansas Constitution protects the right to have an abortion. The soaring turnout and defeat of the amendment is the first indicator of just how unpopular efforts to roll back abortion protections are among voters, even in red states, write Arit John and Melanie Mason.

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The view from California

— Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday declared a state of emergency in California over the spread of the monkeypox virus in order to bolster vaccination efforts, Times writer Taryn Luna reported. Nearly 800 cases have been confirmed in California, which reported that 98.3% of those cases were confirmed in men, the majority of whom identify as part of the LGBTQ community. The proclamation makes it easier for the state to coordinate its response to the outbreak by ordering all state agencies to follow the direction of the Office of Emergency Services and the California Department of Public Health.

— Several criticisms of Mayor Eric Garcetti and his office were softened or removed from the final version of a report on Los Angeles’ emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis, Times writer Dakota Smith reported. The 220-page final report found that there was never a formal discussion regarding who was in charge of the emergency operation, a misstep that led to a breakdown in coordination and communication among city departments. But the final report removes several criticisms mentioned in the draft, in some cases deleting sentences that were not flattering to the mayor’s office.

— The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to prohibit homeless people from setting up tents within 500 feet of schools and day-care centers, during a raucous meeting where protesters shouted down council members and, at one point, halted the meeting, Times writers David Zahniser and Benjamin Oreskes reported. The new restrictions, approved on an 11 to 3 vote, dramatically expand the number of locations where sleeping and camping are off-limits. People would be prohibited from sitting, sleeping, lying or storing property within 500 feet of every public and private school, not just the few dozen selected by the council over the last year.

The view from the campaign trail

— Citing disproportionate allocation of resources, a San Bernardino County developer proposed that the Board of Supervisors explore seceding from California to form a new state, Times writer Christian Martinez reported. The threat of secession has long been a political weapon for the politically dissatisfied in California, the most populous state in the nation and one of the most liberal. Conservative forces in far northern California have tried repeatedly to create their own state with no success. The developer proposed putting the issue on the November ballot, and there is no indication this one will turn out any differently.

— Few gubernatorial races this year are as closely watched as Arizona’s, where the winner could have immense influence in a 2024 presidential battleground, Times writer Melanie Mason reported. Tuesday’s GOP primary has also evolved into a proxy fight between Trump loyalists and establishment Republicans such as former Vice President Mike Pence and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who are backing Karrin Taylor Robson, a former developer and lobbyist. Polls have shown the Trump-endorsed Kari Lake, who embraces election denialism and aggressive border enforcement, to be the front-runner.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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