To mask or not to mask, that is not the question.
Liberal governors are ditching mask mandates — but that’s not even the issue. It’s that they’re forgetting the central lesson of COVID-19: You can’t predict the future.
As COVID cases continue to tumble, politicians of all stripes — even governors in liberal New Jersey, Delaware, and New York — are racing to declare that the pandemic is over.
Okay, to be fair, they’re not saying those exact words. But, in permanently ending long-term COVID precautions, they’re saying it without saying it.
In New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and many more states, governors have recently announced the end of mask mandates, vaccine requirements for indoor dining, and other safety precautions. While there’s a lot of hope that this may, in fact, be the end of the pandemic, full reversals may be premature. Because, remember: We already did this before.
Think back to the halcyon days of last April. Hot Vax Summer? Remember when the CDC director told us that a vaccine was the ticket to a mask-free life? Delta and omicron have since set pandemic-era records for daily cases and deaths.
As I’ve written extensively in these pages, pandemics don’t end with some mass declaration or treaty we sign with the virus. Rather, we’ll slowly get back to the things we once enjoyed that were rendered too risky by the virus — indoor dining, concerts, sporting events will all become commonplace. Allowing us, only then with the benefit of hindsight, to declare a moment when the pandemic ended.
Before I go further, I want to explain a peculiar paradox of this moment. Even though COVID cases are falling precipitously, COVID mortality keeps rising. It’s led to a horrifying split screen that has triggered a particular genre of responses to those who haven’t thought deeply about the dynamics of this disease. “How can anyone who’s not a sociopath want to drop COVID restrictions while COVID deaths are rising?!” Well, deaths are a lagging indicator. That’s because people don’t get infected with omicron and then immediately drop dead. It takes two to five days for the first symptoms to even manifest — let alone to cause death. People who are now dying of COVID are extremely unlikely to have been infected recently. Rather, they likely were infected with COVID two to four weeks ago, at the height of the surge. Dropping COVID precautions now will have zero impact on the death rate that day. While it sounds rash to drop precautions as deaths increase, the two are functionally unrelated. Indeed, the death rate will fall, and that’s because the case rate has been falling now for weeks.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
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