The War Over Covid Masks
On July 29th, a CDC internal document indicated something shocking about the new wave of delta variant covid cases. People who have been vaccinated are being used by the virus as weapons.
No, these vaccinated people do not become sick. No, in most cases they do not require hospitalization and they do not die of covid. And, yes, the vaccine does protect them—and you—against becoming ill with covid.
But the covid coronavirus uses you as a spray gun to blast the people around you. It uses you to take hold in folks who are not vaccinated. And those unvaccinated victims can grow very sick and die.
Which is where the new rush to reimposed mask mandates comes in.
There’s something vital to understand about masks. If I wear a mask, I’m not protecting me, I’m protecting you. So if your best friend refuses to wear a mask, she could be machine-gunning you and the people you love the most with the covid virus.
Which means that masking is not a personal choice. It’s not a matter of individual liberty. When I refuse to wear a mask, I’m not threatening me. I’m threatening you.
Meanwhile, there’s a minor war going on over masks. Covid cases are skyrocketing. On July 30th, roughly 80,000 new cases were detected, ten times the 8,000 a day in mid-June. And three days earlier, on July 27th, CDC director Rochelle Walensky announced a new policy on masks.
If you live in an area that’s being socked by new coronavirus cases, the new CDC guidance says that you should wear a mask in public indoor spaces like restaurants, arenas, or in stores.
Many Republican governors announced that they would either ignore this new mask guidance or would outlaw mask mandates in their states. The anti-mask governors included governor Greg Abbott of Texas, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, Governor Pete Rickets of Nebraska; Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona; Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa; and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota.
On the other side were Democratic governors who urged their citizens to do the opposite, to mask up. The pro-mask governors included Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, Governor Phil Murphy Of New Jersey, Governor JB Pritzker Of Illinois, Governor. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, and Governor Gavin Newsom of California.
But don’t let this mask battle take your eye off the ball. To protect your life and the lives of the people dearest to you, you need to get vaccinated. And indoors in public places, you need to mask up.
The fact is that the outcry against masks comes from folks who are being fed disinformation from twelve key covid anti-vaxxers and from Russian bots. Yes, the outcry against masks tends to come from folks who think that the Covid crisis is a hoax and who say that masking is being used to accustom us to life under a totalitarian rule.
As evidence, the anti-maskers point to the changes in the policy on masking during the last year and a half. But there are good reasons for these changes in mask policy.
- Early in the pandemic the centers for disease control asked us not to mask. The reason? Our small supply of masks was desperately needed by hospital workers.
- Then you and I were asked to mask. Again, there was a reason. The supply of masks caught up with demand. And emerging research continued to show that masks could slow the spread of covid.
- Then in May we were told that if we were vaccinated, we could put our masks back in our pockets. But that policy changed within a mere two months.
- Now we’re being asked to mask again.
Again, there is a reason. It’s the new data showing that the delta variant of covid, the variant that’s now attacking us, can take root even in the respiratory systems of vaccinated people. Again, the virus does not make the vaccinated sick. And it doesn’t kill its vaccinated victims. The vaccinated are successfully shielded from serious illness by the vaccine.
But the covid virus can use the vaccinated as atomizers. If I’m vaccinated, the delta variant can use my respiratory system to spread to yours.
In other words, I need to wear a mask not to protect me. But to protect you.
The bottom line is that viruses are research and development engines. They are inventors. We have to work with all our might to keep up with them, much less to outrun them. So our public policies may continue to change unexpectedly to keep up with the virus’ new tricks.
Jeremy Howard, Austin Huang, et al. An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19, Proceedings Of the National Academy of Sciences, January 26, 2021 118 (4) e2014564118; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2014564118