Opinion | Forget Mask Mandates. Vaccines Are the Only Answer for Fighting Covid-19.
It’s not often that I say this as a conservative, but Mayor Bill de Blasio is absolutely correct to reject calls for a renewed indoor mask mandate and to refuse to consider renewed lockdowns in New York City in light of the emergence of the Delta variant. “A mask doesn’t arrest the progress of the variant,” Mr. de Blasio said, explaining how following the science led him to be reluctant to reinstitute the mandate this week. “Vaccination does.” This doesn’t hold true just for New York City: reinstituting mask mandates and lockdowns is a mistake nationwide as well.
This is not spring 2020. Last March, Covid-19 was a mystery; here in the D.C. suburbs, we were wiping down our groceries with Clorox but still shopping in crowded supermarkets, shoulder-to-shoulder, unmasked. In the summer of 2021, we have more than one highly-effective vaccine available, and vaccination has been an option for every teenager and adult in the country for several months now. Operation Warp Speed was a modern miracle, and yet, we’re still behaving as though it’s the early days of the pandemic, though, thankfully, without the accompanying death toll.
Statistically, almost the only people getting sick enough to be hospitalized at this point are those who have yet to choose vaccination. They have chosen to accept the risk that decision brings and yet, with the threat of more lockdowns, we would all have to bear the cost.
We know what works in our battle against Covid: vaccines. We tried lockdowns, we tried mask mandates, but numbers only started to drop to endemic levels in some areas when vaccination became mainstream. Our society incentivized vaccination as a condition of a return to normalcy, and millions of Americans signed onto this social contract. We need increased vaccination rates in order to keep Covid at bay, and reneging on the agreement to return to normalcy with the ready availability and acceptance of vaccination would have the opposite effect.
And let’s be truly honest about the crushing social and economic costs that lockdowns bring. We not only know more about Covid than we did in the spring of 2020, and we also know just how catastrophic lockdowns are as well. From the devastating mental health toll on teenagers, to the record number of drug overdoses following a time of isolation and stress and the fact that an estimated 200,000 small businesses didn’t survive.
Further, while we keep hearing that the Delta variant is raging, here and around the world, it’s important to keep some perspective in mind about where we are and where we’ve been: In January, we saw an average of 200,000 new cases per day; now we’re seeing a fraction of those peak numbers. And while the average number of hospitalizations increased 32 percent from the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 97 percent of those entering the hospital were unvaccinated.
We also have to remember that America’s culture of self-rule and individualism is at play when we reconsider lockdowns and mask mandates: We can tell people to stay home and mask-up all we want, but government demands don’t necessarily result in compliance. If new mask mandates and lockdowns were to be ordered, compliance would largely depend on the willingness of the populace to do so. It’s not a heavy lift to imagine that the only places willing to comply with lockdowns again are the places that least need to do so — localities with high vaccination rates, and as a result, with low numbers of hospitalization and death.
Last spring, we were told that government emergency orders that expanded the powers of Governors and local officials were due to the extraordinary threat Covid posed. Initially, they were supposed to be in place just two weeks in order to “stop the spread” and save hospital systems from collapse. Those two weeks turned into over a dozen months in many places, with states of emergency becoming our new normal. Now, most states have lifted these states of emergency and we’re finally moving toward a real state of normalcy.
So we have to ask: What would we gain from the institution of new virus mitigation measures? We need to pose hard questions about what the end game is; if we’re talking about the reinstitution of emergency measures when hospitals are functioning normally, when would they be lifted? These are questions that also should have been asked over a year ago. We should never again agree to indefinite emergency powers without a clear and attainable goal for their removal. The reality is one many are unwilling to face: Covid is here to stay, variants will come and go and life must go on.
Instead of mandating more destructive lockdowns and masking, the government’s role moving forward should be incentivizing the only thing that has been proven to ensure a return to true normalcy: vaccines.
Bethany Mandel is an editor at Richochet.com and a contributing writer at Deseret News.
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