Democrats reintroduce legislation to mail N95 masks to all Americans. With growing awareness that cloth and surgical masks just aren't cutting it against COVID-19, people are increasingly advocating for everyone to swap these face coverings for more useful N95 masks—and it's about time! Perhaps the advice to mask up in any way possible seemed wise at one point, but for a while now it hasn't been (to echo a popular COVID-era rallying cry) following the science. Research on mask effectiveness now suggests that certain masks—especially the cloth ones many people have been donning—do little more than provide a false sense of security, especially in the face of more transmissible COVID-19 variants like omicron.
So it's great that Democratic leaders are finally acknowledging that the type of mask matters, instead of just instructing people to cover their faces with any old thing. But as with so much of their COVID-19 response, there's a Goldilocks quality here: Everything is either too little or too much. They're going from mask agnosticism to planning to mail N95 masks to every American and ordering U.S. companies to make more of these masks.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) are cosponsoring the Masks for All Act, a measure first introduced in 2020 that would see that everyone in the U.S. is mailed three N95 masks.
"This is a crisis and our response must meet the moment," said Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.), one of more than 30 bill cosponsors in the House. "If we can afford a $778 billion defense budget, we can afford to send N95 masks to every American to keep people safe as Omicron cases spike."
But three masks are hardly going to last people very long, especially if they work in public-facing places or are otherwise often in situations with a high risk of transmission. If someone can't afford or can't find N95 masks, the three from the government won't make much of a difference in the long run.
At the same time, some people will not wear masks even if free ones are sent to their homes. And others already have plenty of N95 masks around and/or can easily afford to buy their own. What sense does it make to give masks to these people?
Any mask provision plan driven by the federal government is going to be clunky, and getting masks to those who truly need them could probably be better done by private actors or local governments. But if members of Congress insist, then why not at least focus on providing masks where they can make the most impact, instead of wasting masks on folks who won't wear or don't need them while offering a very limited number to those who do?
Not only is mailing masks to everyone a waste of money and resources, but it could exacerbate mask supply issues (something the lawmakers would attempt to get around by invoking the Defense Production Act to order companies to make more masks).
In any event, efforts to get Americans to upgrade their masks continue to be complicated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is still agnostic in its recommendations about what type of masks people should wear.
"The best mask that you wear is the one that you will wear," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at the White House yesterday.
So—despite knowing that cloth masks are weak in the best of circumstances and even more powerless than before against the omicron variant—public health officials continue to encourage what amounts to masking security theater. Cool cool cool.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is also considering mask distribution plans. Knowing its track record, it will probably just add masks to the ever-growing list of things that insurance companies must provide for "free"…
"Let's not invent a civil war," pleads New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. (Agree!) The alleged evidence for such a divide is incredibly flimsy, he notes. For instance, many neo–civil war promoters have been citing a supposed plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to show how willing right-wing extremists are to commit violence toward their ends. But like so many foiled "terrorist plots" before, this one was orchestrated and egged on by the FBI as a sting, leaving open serious questions about how willing any of the plotters would've been to go to such lengths if not encouraged by federal agents.
"Those doubts, in turn, might be reasonably extended to the entire theory of looming American civil war, which assumes something not yet entirely in evidence — a large number of Americans willing to put their lives, not just their Twitter rhetoric, on the line for the causes that currently divide our country," writes Douthat, pointing out several biases in new civil war theories. These include "an exaggerated emphasis on what Americans say they believe, rather than what (so far, at least) they actually do" and "the way the goal posts seem to shift when you question the evocations of Fort Sumter or 1930s Europe."
Let former felons save lives. A federal court will hear an appeal in a case concerning California's ban on people with previous felony convictions becoming emergency medical technicians. The challenge has "the backing of groups from across the ideological spectrum," Reuters reports.
"A three-judge Ninth Circuit panel appeared skeptical that a California law barring people convicted of multiple felonies from becoming certified as EMTs is unconstitutional," notes Courthouse News Service (CNS).
The case was brought by Dario Gurrola, who fought California wildfires while in prison. "Attracted to the discipline and physically gratifying work of firefighting, Gurrola paroled out of prison and began the effort to build a career as a firefighter," says CNS. "He passed several firefighting and EMT courses, including a national one, but was unable to receive a certification in California because of his multiple felony convictions. He sued to have the law stricken as unconstitutional but his case was dismissed by a lower court," after which Gurrola appealed.
I've been saying since the day after the election that Trump would come up with a bunch of uncomfortable loyalty tests if anyone looked too strong for 2024, but I admit I didn't think "why won't he endorse vaccines more" would be one of them https://t.co/hO0rZ2KItT
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) January 12, 2022
• Defense Distributed, creator of the first 3D-printed plastic gun, is making ghost gun software that can get around proposed gun control regulations. "Dubbed the Zero Percenter, because it can turn a completely untouched piece of aluminum into a firearm, the software and a few accompanying components are Wilson's answer to what he considers government overreach," reports Forbes.
• "Supreme Court justices have a history of making factual errors in written opinions for which they have ample time to research and fact-check," notes Radley Balko at The Washington Post. "Some of these errors have had sweeping consequences for constitutional rights. And the court has never bothered to correct them."
• The Canadian province of Quebec plans to tax people who are unvaccinated against COVID-19. "Premier Francois Legault said during a news conference that people who have not received their first dose of vaccine will have to pay a 'contribution,'" the BBC reports. "The fee has not yet been decided, but will be 'significant,' he said."
• More cryptocurrency regulation may be coming soon. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler told CNBC's Squawk Box on Monday that "it's within the securities laws" to take on crypto. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said a new report on cryptocurrency will be released shortly and Rep. Tom Emmer (R–Minn.) tweeted this:
New digital currency legislation coming soon????
— Tom Emmer (@RepTomEmmer) January 11, 2022