Mask mandates aren't quite back, but we appear to be headed in that direction. Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued renewed guidance that even vaccinated people should be masking up indoors, if they live in areas "of substantial or high transmission." The CDC also says that vaccinated people exposed to someone with the coronavirus should be tested and quarantine. And it recommends "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."
The updated guidance was issued over concerns that the delta variant of COVID-19 may be spread by vaccinated people. The science on this is still out.
Even folks who have heretofore been amenable to most CDC guidance seem a bit baffled by the latest update.
"For most of the pandemic, the CDC's guidance has felt reasonable," writes Oliver Darcy in CNN's Reliable Sources newsletter:
It made sense to wear masks when vaccines weren't available and the public had no other ability to protect itself … But we are in a very different situation now with some swaths of the country hitting high rates of vaccination, and others with dismally low rates. The disparity in vaccination rates means that a positive case in a state like New York is far different than a positive case in a state like Louisiana. The CDC's own hospitalization data bears this out: Louisiana is seeing a spike in hospitalizations while New York is not. And yet, the CDC's latest guidance treats parts of New York exactly the same way it treats Louisiana. It doesn't make much sense…
Policies like this should be challenged and tested. Gov't officials should face reasonable questions about the guidance they are issuing. An easy one: Why isn't the CDC basing its recommendations on hospitalization rates versus case counts? Another: How did the CDC determine that 50 new cases per 100,000 amounts to 'substantial' transmission?
Overall, application of the new guidance seems unlikely to jibe with actual threat levels, as areas with high vaccination rates—which also tend to be largely liberal areas—are most likely to impose new rules, despite low hospitalization rates, and the people most likely to follow the CDC's new guidance seem to be those least likely to benefit from it.
The New York Times called the latest CDC guidance "a confusing message," with David Leonhardt writing that "the C.D.C. has both a polarization problem and a communication problem."
High transmission is occurring in places where people have been most resistant to vaccination and mask wearing already. "Who, then, is most likely to listen to the C.D.C.'s new request that vaccinated people wear masks indoors?" asks Leonhardt. "People who live in the places where it will do the least good."
But so long as this stays in the realm of guidance, not mandates, maybe that's OK.
"50/50 masked/unmasked at a Whole Foods in Manhattan tonight. Seems right," tweeted CNN's Brian Stelter. "Give people the most up to date info, then let them make their own risk assessments. This is all about risk tolerance."
Indeed, "to suggest that Covid-19 is an escalating emergency in the United States is not quite right," writes chief health officer for Indiana University. "The truth is that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are experiencing two very different pandemics right now. If we don't confront that, the nation can't address either appropriately."
That's where the CDC guidance truly fails.
"CDC messaging is astonishingly bad here," suggests cardiologist and CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner. "Instead of clearly articulating the problem which is 80 million adults have chosen not to get vaccinated and they are largely also unmasked, CDC suggests that the problem is rare transmission from vaxed to unvaxed people. This is so wrong."
Meanwhile, the U.K. reports some encouraging news about delta variant transmission:
JPMORGAN: UK COVID cases "have more than halved in ten days. What explains this dramatic reversal? .. We are not the only people struggling to explain.. it is hard to argue against the idea that the current Delta wave .. is turning out to be much, much milder than we anticipated" pic.twitter.com/CocX4FWcpw
— Carl Quintanilla (@carlquintanilla) July 28, 2021
The Justice Department seized a rare cuneiform tablet from Hobby Lobby:
Inbox: DOJ seizes the Epic of Gilgamesh from Hobby Lobby pic.twitter.com/kUEDCBcnv4
— Matt Ford (@fordm) July 27, 2021
Teen hiring slows, adult hiring rises in states that ended federal unemployment benefits. "The 20 Republican-led states that reduced unemployment benefits in June did not see an immediate spike in overall hiring, but early evidence suggests something did change: The teen hiring boom slowed in those states, and workers 25 and older returned to work more quickly," reports The Washington Post. More:
Don't look now but New York is closing in on one of its lowest July homicide rates on record. pic.twitter.com/u87UUbvhyj
— Joel Wertheimer (@Wertwhile) July 27, 2021
• How drug warriors made the opioid epidemic deadlier.
• A New Jersey town has dropped its obscenity case against a woman who had "fuck Biden" signs in her front yard.
VICTORY! The court dismissed charges for our client who was criminalized for displaying "Fuck Biden" signs outside her home.
The town asked the court to dismiss the case and accepted what we've been saying all along: it's your right to express dissent, even with strong language. pic.twitter.com/MW47Og7DgU
— ACLU of New Jersey (@ACLUNJ) July 27, 2021
• In Afghanistan, "what could've been a promising end to another bloody theater of U.S. involvement in the Middle East is actually an anticlimactic maintenance of the status quo," writes Reason's Fiona Harrigan.
• The latest on vaccine mandates: Biden is considering a vaccine mandate or regular mandatory testing for federal employees. New York City and California will require them (or weekly testing) of government employees. Meanwhile, in the private sector, The Washington Post has instituted a vaccine mandate:
Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan announces new vaccination policy "is to require all Washington Post employees to demonstrate proof of full COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment."
— Marc Fisher (@mffisher) July 27, 2021
• California residents expected to vote in the state's September recall election are divided on whether Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom should be removed from office.
• Reason's Stephanie Slade has more on 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, in which "a divided three-judge panel found that designing a custom wedding website is 'pure speech.'"
• Walmart is expanding its free college tuition program for employees.