If you are a public health official during a pandemic you are bound to make a few decisions that will hack some people off.
But it takes a real knack to make a call that upsets everyone — up and down the political spectrum.
We are speaking of course, of mandatory masking indoors. It is all the rage now as the Delta COVID variant cases rise dramatically. Los Angeles has already mandated masks indoors. San Francisco Mayor London Breed is mulling it. And Gov. Gavin Newsom, ever a proponent of the big gesture, is surely giving it some thought.
To which we have three words of advice:
Don’t do it.
First, forcing people to wear masks indoors isn’t going to accomplish what you think it is. COVID cases aren’t rising because vaccinated people aren’t wearing masks. It’s because people are refusing or declining to get vaccinated. Well over 90 percent of those in hospital ERs are unvaccinated.
Second, you are creating a sure-fire point of conflict that will only divide the country and the debate even more. Many of the deniers are militant. They believe in wild theories like a microchip in the syringe or that vaccinated and unvaccinated are being infected at the same rate.
That’s unfortunate but I’m not sure what to do about it. It isn’t as if those folks haven’t heard from the experts. And now they are seeing other, unvaccinated victims in hospitals, struggling for breath and saying they wish they’d taken the shots.
But if seeing their neighbors get sick doesn’t convince them, what will? They already distrust the vaccine. Now you are going to tell them that even vaccinated people have to mask up? Doesn’t that only increase the distrust?
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And where does that leave those of us who went out of our way to get the vaccine? It’s readily available now, but at one time it took some considerable effort, including driving an hour or more.
I heard more than one person say getting the shot was an incredible relief. Some said they were surprised how emotional it felt. A huge weight lifted..
The tradeoff was that vaccinated people no longer had to wear a mask, indoors or out. In practice, many people still wore them at places like the supermarket, but in general it was up to the person.
And, by all accounts, that worked fine. It felt like things were looking up. There wasn’t a surge among those who had the shots. Restaurants opened their indoor spaces and began to look to the future.
At this point, a mandatory rule would be demoralizing step backwards.
Which brings up another downside. If masking is required at stores, restaurants and supermarkets the workers will again have to become the mask police. They will have to tell customers they can’t be served if they are not masked-up.
And it won’t be long before we see a viral video of some nitwit who forces a confrontation because he/she is “an American,” and has rights.
Los Angeles is already running into problems with a mandate enforcement. And reporters didn’t have to go far to find residents who were fed up with the mask flip-flopping.
The re-opening of schools is its whole own basket of problems.
Quick prediction: the beginning of this school year is going to be fraught with emotion, steeped in controversy and maddening to manage. You’re going to have anxious parents, suspicious teachers and students who are coming off the weirdest school session in 100 years.
It is really going to take some delicate maneuvering to get through that.
So, a recent decree by the American Academy of Pediatrics was particularly tone deaf. The Academy decreed — out of the blue — that kids should wear masks for the next school year.
C’mon. It is a as much as a full month before schools open and you just thought it would be a good idea to issue a sweeping, nation-wide edict for the school year? Did you consider how that is going to rile people up? Eight states have already banned mandates.
Now, certainly things can change. But current data shows that schools are not the problem. In San Francisco, private schools had in-person learning for much of last school year and negligible COVID rates.
And by the way, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is supposed to be the national standard for this, only recommended masking in schools for unvaccinated people over the age of 2. Not everyone.
It is starting to look suspiciously like some of these medical organizations are looking to cover more than their nose and mouth. Mandatory mask requirements may not have much effect on rising Delta cases, they can say, but our organization took it seriously and did all we could.
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Finally, just saying the word “mandate” only empowers the loonies. They continue to push the craziest sort of conspiracy notions.
For you or me, it would probably be a huge leap of logic to hear President Joe Biden say they might go door-to-door to vaccinate people and immediately jump to the conclusion that the secret police will soon be ringing your doorbell.
And yet, that leap was made. Not only were the oddball faithful told someone was going to force them to take a shot, they also heard the government might send someone to confiscate your guns. And your Bible.
Hearing that the government is going to “mandate” masking is catnip to these groups. Don’t give them the fuel for that crazy campfire.
Instead, what the American Academy of Pediatrics — and everyone else — should do is say they “encourage” wearing masks. But that if vaccinated, you’re fine.
My guess is many people will still wear a mask, in the supermarket for instance. But as of now a vaccinated person can go anywhere, indoor or out, without a mask. And that’s how it should stay.
We know for a fact that we are not the problem. The surge is happening with those who refuse to take the cure. And although we decry the spread of COVID, and mourn the loss of life, let’s remember that the majority of Americans — 67 percent — have gotten at least one of the shots.
Because people aren’t stupid.
Most of them anyhow.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions and compliments gladly accepted. Criticism not so much. Twitter: @cwnevius