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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A huge reason why the pandemic response — or the lack of one — feels so chaotic right now is that the U.S. doesn't have a well-defined goal, experts recently argued in a pair of op-eds.

Why it matters: Policy decisions and individual behavioral choices should ideally be aligned in pursuit of an agreed-upon outcome, but as of now, we don't have one.

What they're saying: "We think much of the confusion and disagreement among scientists and nonexperts alike comes down to undefined and sometimes conflicting goals in responding to the pandemic," Harvard's Joseph Allen and Boston University's Helen Jenkins wrote yesterday in the New York Times.

State of play: The federal government is pushing ahead with a vaccine booster effort that some experts say is unnecessary, state and local governments are taking a patchwork approach to masking and vaccine policies and individual Americans are all trying to figure out how much risk they're willing to tolerate in everyday life.

  • School districts and businesses are trying to figure out how to handle — and are taking very different approaches to — the return to school and work.
  • But the U.S. as a country hasn't agreed on a set of outcomes we're trying to achieve, particularly whether we're trying to eliminate the spread of the virus or to greatly reduce the level of hospitalizations and death it causes.
  • "If the goal is getting to zero infections and staying at that level before dropping restrictions, one set of policies apply. If the goal is to make this virus like the seasonal flu, a different set of policies follow," Allen and Jenkins write.

Zoom in: The vaccination effort is similarly struggling from an undefined set of goals, NYU's Céline Gounder wrote recently in The Atlantic.

  • This ambiguity has become more problematic as more evidence emerges that the vaccines' effectiveness against infection has decreased.
  • "The public discussion of the pandemic has become distorted by a presumption that vaccination can and should eliminate COVID-19 entirely," Gounder argues.
  • "The goal isn’t to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 infections. We can’t, no matter how many booster shots the United States gives," she adds.

Go deeper

Judge rejects Southwest pilots' challenge to vaccine mandate

A Southwest Airlines plane leaves the gate at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Oct. 21. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

A judge ruled that Southwest Airlines can mandate its 9,000 pilots to be vaccinated against COVID-19, declining a union request for a restraining order on the policy, per AP.

Details: U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn said in her ruling against the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association on Tuesday that the airline was meeting its goal on air transportation safety and "providing 'safe and reasonable working conditions' for pilots, by preventing the spread of disease" with the requirement, the Dallas Morning News noted.

Oct 27, 2021 - Health

COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought

Tyson Foods in Portland, Maine, in 2020. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 among workers at the five largest U.S. meatpacking companies were nearly three times higher than previously thought, according to a memo from the House panel probing the response to the pandemic.

Driving the news: At least 59,000 workers contracted COVID-19 and 269 workers died at Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef and Smithfield Foods — which together make up more than 80% of the beef market and 60% of the pork market in the U.S. — according to counts through January of this year.

Updated 14 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters' union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under De Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.