Support for continued mask mandates is collapsing among previously mask militant Democrats and public health officials. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is ending the state's strict indoor mask mandate next week, and New Jersey and Connecticut will no longer require masks in schools. CNN medical analyst Leana Wen, who has flirted with some truly dystopian policies concerning the stigmatization of the unvaccinated, now sounds positively libertarian: This week she heralded the end of mandates as "a needed shift from government-imposed requirement to individual decision."
Wen claims that "the science has changed." In reality, little has changed in the last six months—the vaccines continue to be the only significant policy intervention to drastically prevent severe cases of COVID-19—except that many, many more people have caught and recovered from coronavirus. Case numbers fluctuate as more contagious variants run wild through the population—with masks and other measures doing little to deter them—but the vaccinated enjoy robust protection.
Still, Team Blue giving up on mask mandates is a welcomed development.
Not every member of the cautious coalition has jumped ship just yet, however. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten—whose significant influence over the Biden administration makes her the person most responsible for the education system's failures during the pandemic—is still reluctant to let kids lose their masks. In an interview with MSNBC, she said she was theoretically in favor of a masking "off-ramp," but only when "the spread [is] low enough so that there's no dissemination or transmission in schools."
But COVID-19 is not going away entirely anytime soon: There will always be the possibility of one student transmitting the disease to another. Vaccinated staff who catch COVID-19 are likely to experience a mild bout; the students themselves will probably suffer mild cases, whether vaccinated or not. Healthy young people are at little risk of severe illness, and whether they choose to get vaccinated is really no one's business but their own.
Teachers' Union Boss Randi Weingarten says she will only support unmasking kids when there is ZERO COVID transmission. pic.twitter.com/MNk2dBwdzJ
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) February 8, 2022
Nevertheless, Weingarten was only willing to commit to a de-masking policy in schools where the vaccination rate is at least 80 percent. "I like what Massachusetts has done," she said. "What they've said is that on a school by school basis, if there's an 80 percent vaccination rate then those schools can lift the mask mandates." This measure is overly cautious: Schools can certainly let students take off their masks, even if the vaccination rate among kids and teens is lower than that. In any case, there's little reason to think that compulsory masking is making a significant difference in schools, contrary to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) sloppy reporting on this subject.
Indeed, one of MSNBC's other guests, Dr. Lucy McBride, said mask mandates are doing more harm than good. "There's no convincing evidence in the real world that masking children in schools makes a significant difference in transmission in schools," she said.
Many students have gone two years without regularly seeing the faces of their teachers and classmates. When Weingarten is speaking and needs to be heard, she understands that it's better to remove her mask, as she did during a recent conference appearance. Why would this be any different in the classroom?
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) February 6, 2022