Reason Roundup

COVID Variants Upend Our Reopening

Plus: the Hawaii Innocence Project gets results, a new federal eviction moratorium, and more...


Are the bad old days of the pandemic returning? There have been at least two coronavirus pandemic movies made, both thrillers, each based on the premise that COVID-19 mutations have ushered in successive waves of extended—and increasingly drastic and authoritarian—protective measures. Alas, this frightful scenario is starting to go from a convenient plot device to a too-close-for-comfort possibility.

At present, the delta variant is being cited as a reason to bring back mask mandates and other restrictions, to mandate vaccines for certain employees, to require proof of vaccine status, to continue Trump-era immigration policies, to extend eviction moratoriums, and to justify other invasive government measures.

It's also changing the way some people react in their personal lives. As the number of breakthrough cases—vaccinated people who are infected—rises, it's bringing back the need for some to think twice about large indoor gatherings, travel plans, and going mask-free everywhere.

It's totally reasonable for vaccinated people not to renew precautionary steps, trusting that even if they're infected, the resulting coronavirus case will be mild. But I'm currently in a higher risk category myself (nearly 30 weeks pregnant) and also in close contact with a number of higher-risk people. All of us have been vaccinated. After recently spending time around several folks (including Reason's Robby Soave) who are vaccinated but caught COVID-19 nonetheless, I'm suddenly rethinking my "the pandemic is over!" attitude.

For me and my husband, the summer so far has been filled with airplane travel, indoor dining, being in big crowds, meeting up with long-lost friends and new acquaintances, and acting as if life had returned to normal. We ate at the bar of the most crowded Mediterranean restaurant while passing through New York City. We went to a big conference, where we congregated indoors, shook hands with strangers, and ate from buffets. We put most of our masks away in a box in the closet.

Now, we're trying to figure out which of these activities might be a mistake to continue.

In some places, U.S. stores are once again facing shortages of some products and, in China, people are panic-buying again. Hospitals are once again overcrowding. People are wondering whether schools will actually reopen in a few weeks.

This is all due to one wily variant, delta. Now, we're hearing that another variant, lambda, may also prove more transmissible and able to overpower existing vaccines. "The Lambda variant of the coronavirus, first identified in Peru and now spreading in South America, is highly infectious and more resistant to vaccines than the original version of the virus the emerged from Wuhan, China," Reuters reports.

There's also a delta-plus variant on its way (the plus refers to an extra protein, and not its severity). According to The Washington Post:

South Korea's Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Tuesday that it had recorded at least two cases of the new coronavirus delta-plus variant, which some experts believe to be more transmissible than the original delta variant that was first detected in India and has since thwarted plans for returning to life before the pandemic. …

Richard Novak, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Illinois Health, said it is too soon to say how the delta-plus variant could evade vaccines or whether it is more infectious than the original.

He noted that the variant is alarming, as it is related to the more contagious delta variant and coming at a time when breakthrough cases are popping up among the vaccinated.

"This is just a process of natural selection and selecting viruses that are more contagious. All viruses want to do is reproduce themselves. The ones that do become the dominant virus," he said. "We're going to see other variants. It's on a continuum. The variants are likely to get more efficient as time goes on."

The World Health Organization is watching several other variants, notes Newsweek:

Eta, which is now in several countries; Kappa, which arose in India; Iota, which first popped up in New York City—and especially Lambda, which has torn through Peru and shows signs of having unusual success in infecting fully vaccinated people, according to one early study. It has already spread to Argentina, Chile, Ecuador as well as Texas and South Carolina.

Yes, these are worrying from a public and personal health perspective. But I also shudder to think what new emergency orders, massive spending plans, intrusive executive orders, and other government-induced calamities they may bring.

The idea that the worst of pandemic politics, COVID-19 culture wars, and overreaching public health initiatives are behind us now also seems remarkably quaint.


The Hawaii Innocence Project has helped free a Hawaii homeless man wrongfully locked up in a mental hospital for two years. Joshua Spriestersbach was arrested in 2017 after sleeping on a Honalulu sidewalk. Awoken by a cop, "Spriestersbach thought he was being arrested for the city's ban on sitting or laying down on public sidewalks," Sky News reports. However,

the officer had mistaken him for a man named Thomas Castleberry, who had a warrant out for his arrest for violating probation in a 2006 drug case.

Mr Spriestersbach somehow ended up with Mr Castleberry as his alias, even though he never claimed to be Mr Castleberry or met him, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.

Lawyers for Mr Spriestersbach have said it all could have been cleared up if police had simply compared the two men's photographs and fingerprints.

Instead, despite Mr Spriestersbach's protests that he wasn't Mr Castleberry, he was committed to the Hawaii State Hospital (HSH).


New eviction moratorium issued. The new federal moratorium on evicting tenants who don't pay rent applies to high transmission areas and will be in effect through early October, per a new order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "A source familiar with the effort said the announcement would cover 80% of US counties and 90% of the US population," reports CNN.


• Will critical race theory bans be "a wake-up call on free speech" for the left?

• New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed employees and created a hostile work environment, according to a new report and investigation from state Attorney General Letitia James.

• "Nassau County, New York, has passed a bill that could serve to limit the First Amendment rights of those who criticize cops," notes Reason's Billy Binion.

Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler tackles D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser's "poor spin about not following her own mask mandate." 

• New adventures in the war on Big Tech.