The Biden White House thinks they're doing it, but they're not — yet
I feel like a bad liberal for saying this, but I’ve recently been pretty happy about living in a red state. That’s a problem.
I don’t know how to make this happen, but we have to find a way to get masks off of the poor service workers. They’re miserable, and the ones that I know are sick to death of wearing them while few of the customers do (again, red state).
Outstanding article. With over 250 comments already, and us Westerners regularly getting the short stick of these articles being published too early while we're still sleeping, I apologize if someone has already made this point or something similar to it, but here goes:
There's been a weird, disturbing, and bad strain of sentiment among some of the left that could be termed as a "politics of asceticism", an opposite of the politics of abundance Matt described here: https://www.slowboring.com/p/abundance-scarcity. The core of the strain is that the only solution out of major problems is to sustain long, indefinite sacrifice toward pursuing that sole solution.
This is seen all the time in global warming discourse: so much emphasis on solely reducing GHG emissions to the point that it would lead to a drastic reduction in the quality of life, as opposed to building as much clean energy as possible to create a cascading effect to address AGW even more furtively (again, as Matt said here: https://www.slowboring.com/p/energy-abundance). And you see it in the housing discourse where so many are convinced that building more housing of any kind doesn't work, and to the extent that you are going to be abundant, it has to be solely toward what's deemed as affordable housing, and barring that, you can only deal with redistributing the existing scarce stock. (There's a zillion articles from Matt I could cite so I won't bother here.)
And so it goes for covid. We've invented excellent vaccines that have significantly and consistently blunted the virulence of SARS-CoV-2. But that's not sufficient for the ascetic covid hawks out there wanting a sustained and vigilant abstinence from some very basic human qualities, like being around other people and seeing them smile. It is a dead end as far as politics and policy goes.
I am increasingly certain that whatever the infectious disease and public health people tell themselves in their conscious minds, in their reptile hindbrains they’re just enjoying being *important* and want to spin that out as long as possible.
Even a well-versed layperson can see that there are no NPIs short of “China” which will have any impact on this going forward, and that therapeutics and vaccines have reduced the threat level to near-zero for all but the most extremely unhealthy or oldest of individuals.
Yet, we’re being told that all of this is now permanent.
The reaction to that idea should have been rather obvious.
Hopefully the next pandemic isn’t dramatically worse because these people overplayed their hand and will not be widely listened to again in living memory.
Every time I hear someone say we're back to normal, I am 100% certain they do not have young children.
Someone in my three year-old's class room tested positive for covid. As a result, both she and my one year-old are at home for a ten day quarantine. And this is the second time this month. I remember 2019 and if someone got the flu on class, this did not happen.
There are some people who discovered that they like wearing masks and they especially like other people wearing masks, and they want "normal" to be "everyone wears a mask in public".
Not a mandate, but a normality - that not wearing a mask is weird and strange and is like not wearing pants.
My biggest concern about the divide within the left on this issue is that there seems to be a growing number of people who want to minimize risk and have no concerns about the extent to which doing so seriously burdens other domains of life. I attended policy school at UC Berkeley and the political scientist who really started the graduate program there was Aaron Wildavsky. He was gone by the time I arrived, but his reputation was significant, and it he seemed like he had become something of a crank at the end of his career, really disparaging the regulatory state as a tool to redistribute utility/wealth away from the working class and to the professional middle class by sapping the dynamism of the economy to mitigate small risks. This seemed to me a bit overly libertarian when I was a graduate student in the 90s and I thought he was underestimating the real harms of an unregulated market, but these days I find myself worrying that we just keep getting less and less risk tolerant as time moves forward, and that the costs of that creep are being dismissed -- it seems true with the focus on safetyism in ideas and speech (harm mitigation is more valued than the benefits of robust exchange) as well as this response to COVID (wanting kids to be in school in person without masks is seen as being a teacher killer). I think it's weird when people want proof that wearing masks all day is bad for kids mental health and education -- I think it pretty self-evident -- we shouldn't have to prove that masks are suboptimal, the burden should be on the mask advocates to show a meaningful reduction in spread and yet that data really isn't there. I am a pretty personally risk averse person, but I feel despair when people are attacking someone as sane and level headed as David Leonhardt.
This piece is murkily argued.
Most will immediately agree that they don’t want mask requirements to persist forever. I include myself in that group.
Antivirals are in very short supply, but that supply will greatly improve in a matter of months. Those drugs will make a big difference for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated—and while we should do all we can to persuade the latter to get their shots, as a practical matter, some of them will never agree to do so, and for them, antivirals will be the key to cutting death rates and limiting hospital load (irrational though it may be to eagerly take a new drug but claim there is too much risk being vaccinated). The point here is that there is a finite horizon to when antivirals will be in good supply, and thus a target date for when NPIs like masks can be relaxed and risk of severe disease still kept low for all.
Matt suggests setting dates for when masks will go in schools and on flights. That approach seems to ignore a principal lesson of the pandemic: that facts change unexpectedly, whether when vaccines turn out to be less effective against symptomatic illness and transmission than previously seen, or when a new variant emerges that is even more transmissible and more vaccine-evasive, and thus threatens to overwhelm hospitals. How can it possibly make sense to set dates for a change in posture far in advance, when uncertainty is a principal lesson of the pandemic? Policies must adapt to evidence and variants as they emerge. That is not a recipe for forever restrictions! It is a recipe for rational response to evidence. It is a false equivalence to suggest that needing to wait and see and adapt is tantamount to permanent loss of freedom.
“the Secretary of Education can make it clear to the NEA and AFT that unless they enthusiastically agree to a return to normal schooling for next year, the White House is going to go nuclear on them.”
^THIS is the “sister souljah” moment I’m looking for.
also -- I think it's a bit unfair to pick on a tweet from AOC dating back to a time (Nov. 2020) when, in fact, she was *right* that it was important to maximize the non-pharmaceutical interventions, because **there was no vaccine yet**.
If you want to blame people for keeping that mind-set 15 months later when it's out-moded, then you should use a different piece of evidence.
I wonder why this (totally correct) message from center-left wonks makes that crowd *so* mad. Like, the internet is full of things that make people mad but telling COVID hawks that this has to end eventually is a particularly acute form of poking the bear.
I suppose the only thing that one might add to the above is that things really are back to normal in almost all respects in places like Texas and Florida, the main exceptions being areas exposed to the federal writ -- federal buildings, airports, and such. (This doesn't make their policies "right" or "wrong," just a description of them.) In such places, the federal rules seem ridiculous, and only amplify the contempt for "Washington," just as the absurd local rules that require one to wear a mask for 18 seconds between entering the door of a restaurant and reaching the table only amplify the narrative that the "experts" are woefully out of touch.
Today is a strange day to switch to vax and relax. The NYTimes says an average of 2,254 Americans are dying of covid every day. New therapeutics that will sharply reduce the odds of severe outcomes once infected will be broadly available in a couple months. The idea “we’re going to have restrictions for a few months to save 200,000 lives” still applies.
Still, a lot of people, including smart center left people like Matt, are switching to vax and relax. I suspect this is because of all the breakthrough infections. I recently had one, together with my wife, a third of her company, and a few of our neighbors. It wasn’t a big deal. So many respectable people have gotten the nerf version of covid and been just fine that it has been impossible to keep up the drum beat of fear which worked earlier. What this shows is that the politics of restrictions are more about the subjective fears of moderate voters than mortality statistics. 200,000 additional deaths is politically tolerable when they are almost entirely confined to the very old, very weak and very stupid.
My main concern about this is hospital capacity, in terms of individual risk I agree it’s kind of fine (I mean UK data has COVID at about 2x as deadly as the flu), but my impression is hospitals have completely pared down their covid surge capacity, so with lower hospitalization loads you’re still getting “Hospitals overwhelmed” stories, which given the personal levels are “technically” true. So there should be a more serious discussion of permanently increasing healthcare capacity to deal with COVID + Flu on a permanente basis, because doctors being mad and frustrated is a hugely underplayed media dinamic.
Yey... they have an edit button finally.
Amen. The only thing I would quibble about it’s that the costs of masks is underrated. Overwhelmingly the masks mandate people have occupations in which they don’t have to wear them as much. Or wear them doing physical type jobs. Meanwhile they thing that welders, cooks, servers, policeman, guys like me that inspect our plans, should all just shut up and not complain. Its mask mandate privilege.
I’ve had this argument so many times on twitter. If masks were optional…. The vast majority of people wouldn’t wear them the majority of the time. Revealed preference vs stated preference.
I had signed up for an improv class (these get mocked a lot, but it's one of the few ways I've found to make friends after college and outside of work) but it got suspended due to omnicron, which I found kind of annoying, and I'm sure the "we're back to normal" people would roll their eyes at this complaint, but after two years "minor" inconvenience start to add up to legitimate hinderances to socializing.
I'm not sure if someone has already mentioned this, but there's something worth talking about here that makes the social responsibility aspect of limiting your personal activity in today's United States completely absurd.
We have something like 30% of the population completely unvaccinated. And approximately none of those people are doing anything at all to mitigate Covid transmission. The best that you can say is that in certain jurisdictions in the country they are subject to mandatory testing and quarantining policies around certain activities. But socially, they have been back to normal many months by this point.
Given that circumstance, a marginal change in the fraction of fully vaccinated individuals that stay at home or wear a mask or whatever is completely irrelevant to the community spread of Covid, and this is even more true given the R factor for Omicron related variants. The community of unvaccinated individuals is more than enough by itself to support community spread of Omicron. At the same time, the incredible effectiveness of the vaccine at preventing hospitalization means the behavior of fully vaccinated individuals can barely have any effect on the burden on hospitals.
So all of the pro-social voluntary (or involuntary) Covid restrictions vaccinated individuals apply to themselves has, at this point, no benefit whatsoever. The only relevance is to your own personal risk and the risk of your immediate family to contracting covid. The only arena where Covid restrictions are relevant is that if you enforce quarantines at schools or other facilities, you may partially protect vulnerable individuals working there, but only if those individuals are taking exceptional steps in their private life to avoid infection. And note this excludes, by definition, the elderly. We are effectively talking about a tiny fraction of the working public and we should probably find some other policy to help those people that is not so disruptive to everyone else.