Democrat mayors and governors are pressing for schools and businesses to remain open, despite a surge in omicron cases nationwide, Politico reported on Monday.
This is in sharp contrast to Democrat policies for most of the pandemic, which went further than most Republicans in shutting down businesses and schools and enforcing social distancing in order to control the spread of the virus.
But with the pandemic entering its third year, blue state leaders are faced with exhausted and frustrated voters who do not want any more strict shutdowns, which many argued harmed the financial situation of large parts of the population and also caused a mental health crisis among school-age children who had to stay at home.
"There’s a real social impact that I think has not been part of the messaging [until recently]," Doug Rubin, a veteran strategist who has worked with several prominent Massachusetts Democrats, told Politico. "Democrats saw there were political impacts to this. They saw in Virginia and New Jersey the potential negative impacts of ignoring some of these issues."
Even with the sharp increase in coronavirus cases, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti insist the upcoming Super Bowl in Los Angeles will not be canceled, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has harshly criticized a teachers union dispute for shutting down the nation’s third-largest school system, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has declared the end of the medical emergency, adding that the unvaccinated have only themselves to blame if they get sick.
Surveys have shown that people are fed up with the pandemic, with a solid majority of Americans saying they felt "worn out" by the coronavirus’ toll on their daily lives, including 63% of Democrats in a Monmouth University poll last month.
The Monmouth poll also showed that the variants have dragged down coronavirus approval ratings for governors in states that President Joe Biden won in the last election.
Democratic leaders "see an upcoming election; they see backlashes," Bob Blendon, a polling and political strategy expert at the Harvard Kennedy School, told Politico. "They can’t close things down, and there is no public tolerance for serious disruptions in people’s lives. People have run out of patience."
Even with changes in policies among blue state governors, former operatives at the Democratic Governors Association argue that party leaders are not emulating their Republican counterparts, because they are continuing to emphasize safety precautions and vaccinations, including mandates.
Democrats also argue that the situation is different now than what it was a year ago, as coronavirus vaccines have become widely available and early evidence suggests omicron has much lower rates of death and severe hospitalization.
But Democrat leaders are facing anger from critics on the left who accuse their own party of caring more about the economy than public health, especially by shortening isolation and quarantine guidelines, Politico reported. Many labor unions say governments aren’t providing enough tests and masks and that leaders should consider short-term closures until the omicron surge ends.
Democrat leaders, however, are resisting this pressure, with Lightfoot telling NBC’s "Meet the Press" that "the leverage I think we have is that we've got the will of the people. Parents are outraged, and they are making their outrage known to the teachers union. This is a very different dynamic than ever before."
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