Members of the GOP have railed against warnings from the Biden administration about the omicron variant, arguing the White House is playing up the threat to sow fear.
“There’s always going to be a new variant,” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said on Fox News last week. “People should get vaccinated if they want. We need no mandates, and we need to stay open. Joe Biden and the Democrats need to stop threatening shutdowns of schools, shutdowns of businesses. Enough is enough.”
Since Biden warned the country about the omicron variant on Nov. 26, it has been detected in at least 57 different countries. While little is known about the new variant from South Africa, it has spread quickly in the United States. The first case was detected on Dec. 1 in California. The strain has now been detected in 19 different states. The administration moved swiftly last week to restrict travel from eight African countries at the center of the omicron outbreak.
“Once again, we find ourselves in a situation in which we have a new COVID variant. Rather than making rational, scientific decisions, Dr. Fauci and the Biden administration have jumped to assume the worst and have begun implementing restrictions with the ever-looming threat of mandates,” Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said earlier this week.
OMICRON FEARS BOOSTING VACCINATIONS
Meanwhile, former White House physician Ronny Jackson, who now represents Texas's 13th Congressional District as a Republican, described the omicron variant as a ploy for Democrats to hold on to their slim majorities in the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.
“Here comes the MEV — the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots,” Jackson tweeted on Nov. 27. “Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election — but we're not going to let them!”
Ted Cruz responded, “Accurate diagnosis.”
The White House has tried to temper fears about the new variant. Biden said on Nov. 29 that “this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” Epidemiologists are still studying the variant to determine severity and transmissibility, though some experts in South Africa believe it may infect people even more quickly than the delta variant.
“I would imagine it will take at least another couple of weeks before we have a good handle [on the variant] and then a really good handle a few weeks thereafter. So I would say we shouldn't be making any definitive conclusions, certainly not before the next couple of weeks,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical officer.
Biden and Fauci, have ramped up calls on people to get vaccinated if they have not done so and to get booster shots if they are eligible. To date, nearly 61% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated.
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Most Republicans are not concerned about the new variant, according to polling out earlier this week. Only 35% of Republicans said they were at all concerned about the new variant, compared to 80% of Democrats. A majority of Republicans, 59%, said they are not very concerned or not concerned at all, compared to 14% of Democrats.