After watching the states apply different COVID-19 restrictions, we should all come away with a better understanding of why our nation's Founding Fathers believed in federalism, where states are the laboratories of democracy that can try regulatory approaches that conform to local attitudes and conditions.
Our political leaders have muddled through like everyone else. They have no great wisdom about viruses, so it's best for people with a variety of ideas to try a variety of approaches—rather than giving one leader supreme powers. After nearly two years of a pandemic-related panic, we can look at the data and see what has worked and what hasn't worked.
As usual, California has chosen a top-down approach, with Gov. Gavin Newsom reinstating the indoor mask mandate as new variants of COVID-19—including Omicron, which sounds like an outer-space villain—are spreading. Yet the latest data shows an inconsequential difference between death rates in restrictive states such as ours (0.16) and laissez-faire ones such as Florida (0.13).
I know it's more complex than that, but let's dispense with the idea that California's political leadership is the font of pandemic-related wisdom. There's evidence suggesting that mask-wearing might help prevent the pandemic's spread, but one needs to evaluate the real-world ramifications of the latest kneejerk Sacramento mandate.
What good are edicts that are, essentially, unenforceable? "Local government officials say the state hasn't given any guidance on enforcement, and some local authorities say they won't enforce the state's order at all," The Sacramento Bee reported. Californians won't tolerate fines and arrests of those who resist mask-wearing, so the month-long edict is mostly public relations.
I actually agree with the governor's words: "I think people are more capable once they're given the 'why' and the 'what' to apply themselves…and I think a lot of people will self-enforce and do the right thing." To this libertarian, that's the best approach to almost any crisis—expecting a free and responsible people to self-regulate.
Sadly, Newsom never actually allows Californians to do this without a mandate because he can't allow us to make choices he doesn't like. We already see a form of local federalism taking root. When I went to dinner recently in San Francisco, the restaurant (per city code) required our party to provide proof of vaccination. In the rural area where I live, virtually no one wears masks—mandate or not.
It's time for common sense and a little more reliance on personal responsibility. Nearly 75 percent of Californians have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 65 percent having received two doses. Presumably, that includes a large percentage of conservatives – the folks most likely to portray the vaccination regimen as a leftist plot to control the population.
The vaccine is widely available. I waltzed into my doctor's office last week and received a booster without an appointment or cost. So now it's time to let a free people make their choices and live with the results. It's time to move on with life rather than cobble together another bundle of regulations that only raise all of our haunches.
Fortunately, this view of the pandemic—the result of exhaustion and frustration at the disturbing side effects of economic disruptions and lockdowns—has an ally in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain State isn't some redoubt of right-wing revanchism. Voters there supported Joe Biden over Donald Trump by a 55 percent to 42 percent margin.
Gov. Jared Polis is a Democrat, yet his words during a recent Colorado Public Radio interview had me cheering. He said the "emergency is over" and that it's not the role of public-health officials to "tell people what to wear." He later walked back that "what to wear" comment by supporting local public-health efforts rather than state ones, but his remarks represent a welcome shift.
"You don't tell people to wear a jacket when they go out in winter and force them to (wear it)," he said. "If they get frostbite, it's their own darn fault." Likewise, Polis argues that, "Everybody had more than enough opportunity to get vaccinated…At this point, if you haven't been vaccinated, its' really your own darn fault." Exactly.
It's time for Americans to grow up. If you refuse a vaccine, that's fine. Just deal with any consequences. To be clear, I have taken the COVID-19 situation seriously since the outset—especially given that I have an elderly mother who lives in an independent-living facility with other older people. I definitely don't want to be Typhoid Mary, who spreads a potentially deadly disease to vulnerable people.
Some pushback against vaccines and masks has been zany, but I can't blame people for skepticism at this point, as evidence pours in about the mental-health and economic effects of the lockdowns. Fortunately, 50 states are free to chart their own post-pandemic future. Colorado proves even Democratic states can try something different.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.