L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is the latest California politician to hammer home the point that the state's pandemic rules are just for the little people. What Gov. Gavin Newsom started, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed continued, Garcetti has perfected. He even developed the ideal face-saving line: When a photo surfaced Wednesday of Garcetti, maskless, with Lakers legend Magic Johnson at a Rams game, the mayor reassured concerned citizens that he held his breath to take the photo. (Los Angeles County has a mask mandate in place both indoors and at crowded outdoor events. SoFi Stadium also requires event attendees to wear masks when not actively imbibing.)
Eric Garcetti hopes you're dumb enough to believe that he held his breath every single time he took his mask off at the Rams game. pic.twitter.com/r4FQeE24FY
— Kevin Dalton (@NextLAMayor) February 3, 2022
Garcetti's comically absurd response betrays either a misunderstanding of how COVID is spread or the extent to which the rules he's imposed, but doesn't feel the need to follow, are largely hygiene theater.
Just as plexiglass barriers between diners are performative measures that don't make sense given what we know about this airborne respiratory virus, holding your breath during a photo op won't prevent you from spreading or contracting COVID.
What Garcetti might've said is that photo ops are brief encounters, and that COVID spreads much more successfully in longer encounters when a greater viral load can be transmitted. In the same way that we don't really need to mask up just to walk from a hostess stand to a table in a restaurant, it probably won't be a single brief photo op that leaves someone COVID positive. At this point in the pandemic, Garcetti should understand that. If his behavior suggests that he already understands that, he should acknowledge reality and adjust his policies accordingly.
But there's obviously more at play than a rudimentary misunderstanding of the science. Garcetti is committed to COVID safety measures as a tribal talisman. It is a symbol to his fellow liberals that he's taking the virus seriously. Claiming that he held his breath is meant to protect his place atop a polarized political constituency that views masking as patriotic and sacrosanct; it is not science-based advice for determining when a person can or should forego a mask.
It is as wrong as his government's insistence that physical building plans—as in, pieces of paper—be quarantined before a government employee will examine them:
~2 years into Covid, and ~18 months since we learned the disease is transmitted through the air, the Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety still requires all submitted plans to be quarantined for several days before a plan-checker can review them.
— Moses Kagan (@moseskagan) February 2, 2022
Politicians could just admit they're just like the rest of us—exhausted by the pandemic and its political wars of attrition on both sides, vaccinated and at low risk of bad COVID outcomes, who go to sporting events and take maskless pictures and see other people in close quarters because that's what people are supposed to do at sporting events. They could remove mask mandates, citing the CDC's admission that cloth masks don't do all that much, and which they themselves flout anyway.
But, y'know, don't hold your breath.