Things I ask myself as I sit in my formerly mask-free coffee shop/office, which has responded to new CDC regulations by going back to the bad old days hanging a “mask-up” sign on the door…
Why is it so hard to understand that the spread of the Delta variant — now seen as contagious as chicken pox, as transmissible as the common cold — means the expected summer of love, or at least the summer of indiscriminate hugs, is now lost to us? A new CDC report says health and policy officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”
Among the changes that require new thinking is the discovery — scientific knowledge and viruses can both mutate — that even the vaccinated can still contract the Delta virus and, worse, apparently pass along a heavy viral load to the unvaccinated. Most of those recently affected in a massive Cape Cod outbreak were already vaccinated. That was the game-changer on masks. So why get vaccinated? Most of those affected who were vaccinated had no symptoms. Only seven had to be hospitalized and none died. The unvaccinated, of course, don’t have the protection afforded by the vaccine and are, therefore, in much greater danger of being hospitalized or dying.
If the war analogy is correct — and it’s as least as correct as, say, the war on drugs or the war on poverty — why have so many Americans failed to enlist in this one, where the weapons of mass destruction are right in front of our faces, masked or not?
While we know viruses aren’t cruel — they just do what viruses do — isn’t it true that the feared mutations have hit us so hard because so many are unvaccinated? And if the virus isn’t cruel, the irony that those most loudly calling for a return to normalcy are often the ones blocking that return is, at minimum, a cruel irony. Philip Bump of The Washington Post offers the motorcycle helmet analogy. Many motorcyclists want freedom from wearing helmets, even as the death toll soars for helmet-free riders. The difference, Bump points out, is that not wearing a helmet doesn’t put anyone else’s head at risk.
Speaking of risk, why have so many European countries, once well behind the United States in vaccinating their people, now moved ahead of us? Don’t they understand about microchips there? Is it because they hate Donald Trump?
Did anyone notice that when French President Emmanuel Macron said all health care workers should be vaccinated and there would soon be vaccine passports required for restaurants, bars and theaters, thousands took to the streets to protest while millions of the vaccine-hesitant suddenly signed up for the vaccine?
Is there anything more likely than Trumpists calling out Joe Biden for mandating a vaccine for federal employees even though he didn’t? What Biden did was a workaround. He said federal employees and on-site contractors must be vaccinated or — and please note the “or” — be required to wear masks and get tested regularly. You can either be vaccinated and less likely to infect your fellow workers or have to prove you’re not infected. Biden is hoping that state governments and companies follow his lead.
How would that plan look to Jared Polis, the non-mandate guy who has been saying he had no plan to mandate masks or anything else? He followed Biden’s lead. On the same day Biden announced his workaround, Polis announced 30,000 state employees must be vaccinated or take twice-weekly COVID tests and also wear masks. This makes perfect sense, although I doubt Polis would have made the order if Biden hadn’t. Let’s hope businesses make the same deal with their employees. Meanwhile, many Colorado hospitals are finally requiring vaccines for their workers. And Polis, still anti-mandate, is very much pro-vaccine. In fact, we’re now seeing many Republican governors promoting the vaccine as the pandemic hits red states hardest.
Could anyone not notice how the CDC, once again, bungled its latest pronouncement? One, they announced new mask guidelines before releasing any evidence. Two, they acted as if there were near-universal trust in their decisions, which is wrong. Three, many backtracking officials don’t concede what they don’t know. Four, it’s time for humility in explaining the virus is a moving target, science is inexact and it’s not the goalposts that are moving, but the virus itself. Five, none of that means we should ignore the science or that vaccines are not still the best way to combat COVID. Six, I will still take Dr. Fauci over Rand Paul in a virus-related debate, or any other debate.
Speaking of Rand Paul, did the junior senator from Kentucky see what the senior senator from Kentucky did? Mitch McConnell is running ads encouraging people to get vaccinated. McConnell had polio as a kid. He understands. And why can’t those of us who heartily dislike McConnell just be happy that he’s right this time when he says, “There is bad advice out there, you know. ... And that bad advice should be ignored”?
There was a fascinating piece in The Colorado Sun on the fact some heavily vaccinated counties have more cases of the Delta virus than counties with lower vaccination rates. How? One answer, from an epidemiologist, for this seemingly inexplicable fact: “This is biology. Biology is messy.” As to what comes next, and how much worse the problem might become, the answer is that no one knows.
It’s bad enough that benighted lawmakers like Lauren Boebert liken a mask mandate or a request to get vaccinated to Nazi-like tyranny. But why would anyone believe Boebert and friends when they claim mask mandates are part of a Democratic power grab? What power are the Dems grabbing? Who gains, other than mask-makers, from mandates? What politician do you know who willingly walks into a buzzsaw?
Was anyone surprised to see Boebert among the House crazies who walked into the Senate, where there’s no mask mandate, but where nearly everyone has been vaccinated? There were reports Boebert threw a mask at a House staffer who handed her one. Others say she dropped the mask on the floor. Or she handed it back. It’s not clear. Of course, what is clear when it comes to Boebert?
Here’s the question that really bothers me. Why is Texas Gov. Greg Abbott trying to kill my grandson? OK, he’s not literally trying to kill my grandson, who’s entering first grade in Austin, but he is willfully endangering every schoolchild.
Many states will not go back to mask mandates, whatever the evidence suggests. But in Texas, where the Delta variant is exploding and COVID-related hospitalizations have increased by 40 percent, Abbott just signed an order denying any government entity — including school districts — the right to mandate mask wearing or vaccinations.
In Austin, they would mandate masks in schools if they could. So elementary school students, like my older grandson, who can’t be vaccinated, can’t go to a public school where masks are mandated. They can be encouraged, though. The grandson — son of my law-professor daughter whose school can’t mandate masks or vaccines — will wear one. I hope his classmates and teachers do.
And while I’m at it, I have to wonder why so many Colorado school districts are still working on plans. Elementary students can’t get vaccinated. Most high school students, though eligible, haven’t been vaccinated. What would be the point of not following CDC guidelines on masking for all students? In many states, they’re fighting over how history is taught. But every Colorado school system teaches biology.
It’s time to crack open a book.
Mike Littwin’s column was produced for The Colorado Sun, a reader-supported news organization committed to covering the people, places and policies of Colorado. Learn more at coloradosun.com.