With COVID-19 cases rising in all 50 states over the past week, get ready for another round of politicized debates over mask mandates—even though vaccination is the actually effective way to combat the more infectious delta variant.
Anthony Fauci, the White House's top COVID-19 adviser, told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that new masking recommendations were "under active consideration" within the Biden administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's just a few days after President Joe Biden suggested that the CDC could soon issue guidance telling children under 12—who can not yet get the various COVID-19 vaccines—to wear masks while attending school. The CDC announced in May that vaccinated Americans could stop wearing masks in almost all situations, but we may be on the cusp of yet another frustrating reversal in the official guidance.
FAUCI: Revising mask guidelines for vaccinated Americans is "under active consideration." pic.twitter.com/J3DcZet6rt
— Carly Ortiz-Lytle (@intlcarly) July 25, 2021
Perhaps the most frustrating part is that Fauci, during that same CNN interview, acknowledged the reality of what's driving America's rising COVID-19 case counts. Spoiler: It has nothing to do with Americans ditching their masks.
"It is really a pandemic among the unvaccinated. So, this is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we're out there practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out there and get vaccinated," Fauci said. "And since we have 50 percent of the country is not fully vaccinated, that's a problem, particularly when you have a variant like Delta, which has this extraordinary characteristic of being able to spread very efficiently and very easily from person to person."
But if this is becoming a "pandemic among the unvaccinated," then mask mandates make little sense. As Reason's Robby Soave wrote last week:
Theoretically, if there are places in the country where vaccine rates are very low, people who obstinately refuse to become vaccinated might get some small benefit out of widespread mask usage. But in practice, people who don't want to get the vaccine are unlikely to follow the other, more annoying mitigation strategies. On the contrary, the places that are most likely to reintroduce mask mandates and see widespread compliance are places where vaccination rates are very high.
In Alabama—which has the country's lowest vaccination totals and (not coincidentally) relatively high numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations recently—and in Louisiana, where case counts are approaching levels not seen since the winter, public health officials are running out of ideas for how to encourage the vaccine-hesitant.
"Many people here and elsewhere in the Southeast are turning down Covid-19 vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats in Washington thinking they know what's best. State and local public health officials have struggled to combat that deep-rooted obstinance," Politico reports. "The vaccine is a non-starter in communities where people say they do not trust the federal government."
Once lost, trust is hard to regain. Decades of failed government policies have accumulated to make this mess. And public officials' often contradictory edicts during the pandemic have not helped.
Let's deny masks work, then mandate masks, then never differentiate between medical grade n95 masks & pieces of cloth, then mask only children for a bit, then reimpose universal mask mandates on vaccinated people and then ask why trust in institutions is crumbling.
— Zach Weissmueller (@TheAbridgedZach) July 23, 2021
In short: Another round of mask mandates issued from Washington is not going to end the pandemic in the rural South.
Are there circumstances where masks might still be helpful in curbing COVID-19? Sure. "If you're around vulnerable people, if you're taking care of a newborn or an elderly patient and you're vaccinated and if you don't feel well, you should probably get yourself checked out and not assume you're impervious to any kind of infection even if you're vaccinated," Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday. "If you can get your hands on a KN95 mask or an N95 mask, that's going to afford you a lot more protection," he added.
It certainly makes some sense to take extra precautions when interacting with vulnerable people. And if wearing a mask all the time makes you feel safer or more willing to go about your normal life, by all means, do so.
But those two things can be true without justifying a return to mandated masking. At this stage of the pandemic, with safe and effective vaccines readily available for all Americans over age 12, there is no need for another round of public debates over masks, which were always temporary, less-than-perfect tools for combatting COVID-19.
Who gets to decide what's true? We all do. Jonathan Rauch on the epistemological revolutions that made the modern world possible:
Although [Adam] Smith did not invent markets, he notated the code which enabled a tribal primate, wired for personal relationships in small, usually related groups, to cooperate impersonally across unbounded networks of strangers, and to do so without any central authority organizing markets and issuing commands. Economic liberalism—market cooperation—is a species-transforming piece of social software, one which enables us to function far above our designed capacity.
Political liberalism grapples with another version of the cooperation problem: Can we make rules that channel self-interest, ambition, and bias to benefit society as a whole? Can we provide social stability without squelching social dynamism, and without submitting to a Hobbesian authority? Yet another version of the cooperation problem preoccupies epistemic liberalism: Can people with sharp differences of opinion be induced to cooperate in building knowledge, again providing both stability and dynamism without recourse to authoritarianism?
But, of course, Adam Smith and John Locke didn't have to deal with Twitter.
The United Kingdom is easing immigration rules to allow some college graduates to move there without a job offer in hand. The change is intended to create more flexibility for "high potential" individuals to live and work in the U.K., making the country a more attractive destination for skilled immigrants.
If you have graduated from a top global university then you will be free to move to the UK without a job offer under the new 'High Potential Individual Visa'. pic.twitter.com/MbSVIp389V
— Sam Dumitriu (@Sam_Dumitriu) July 23, 2021
Meanwhile, the United States faces a backlog of more than 1 million skilled immigrants who would like to live and work here, but can't because the government makes it too difficult to get a visa.
• U.S. officials say COVID travel restrictions will remain in place for now.
• Tunisian security forces raided Al Jazeera's offices in Tunis amid reports of a coup attempt.
• France gives up essential liberties to purchase a little temporary security.
• Nothing to see here, China says, rebuffing the World Health Organization's plan for an investigation into COVID-19's origins.
• Sweden will experiment with paying people to get vaccinated.
• It costs more to get a woman's attention on the internet than a man's.
• Attack your week the way American rugby players Kevon Williams and Madison Hughes attacked the Kenyan defense at the Olympics:
— Ian McNaughton (@ianmcnaughty) July 26, 2021