As the Vietnam War began to look like a desperate quagmire in 1966, a Vermont senator named George Aiken suggested that America could save its troops by simply declaring victory and returning home, regardless of the real situation. in the field. Aiken died in 1984, but his mind appears to be guiding U.S. COVID-19 policy as the second anniversary of the pandemic looms.
From coast to coast, in the Red and Blue states, governors and mayors are sometimes stunned declaring victory over the coronavirus and running to remove all remaining mask warrants and restrictions on public gatherings, in the hope of scoring points with an American audience desperate for a full return to normalcy. The unspoken part of the market is hoping you won’t be looking at the little box in your newspaper or on its website – the one that shows the number of COVID-19 cases increasing across America for the fifth time since March 2020.
Last week, a New York Times article on the pros and cons of pursuing mask warrants pointed out that “the delta’s surge of summer [is] in the rearview mirror â- ignoring the much more salient point that winter’s COVID-19 outbreak has only just begun. The author only had to look at the newspaper’s homepage last Wednesday to see that new coronavirus cases in the United States had increased by 25% in 14 days, to reach 94,335 in one day.
“We are concerned that changing course during the winter months, let alone the week before a big trip, may not be prudent action,” reads a letter from 10 members of the alarmed Washington, DC city council. by the fact that their mayor, Muriel Bowser, is lifting a city-wide mask mandate. âIt sends a signal that public health problems are back to normal when they are not. “
No, they are not. In the Midwest, where the cold typically pushes people indoors a few weeks earlier than in the rest of the United States, and vaccination rates aren’t as high as in the coastal states, officials have found a two-week increase in cases of 56% and – far more worryingly – a 20% increase in hospitalizations. And that was before the big trips and big get-togethers associated with the Thanksgiving vacation.
Even more alarming is the situation for our developed northern hemisphere counterparts in Europe, where several countries – such as Austria and the Netherlands – have seen cases reach a level where government officials have taken the extreme measure of new ones. blockages. Many exhausted citizens cannot stand it. In the Dutch city of Rotterdam, for example, young people in rebellion against new severe restrictions have revolted for three nights in a row. They set fire to and threw stones at the cops, who then fired bullets, injuring four people.
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It surely won’t happen to that in America – only because our political leaders know that lockdowns are not a start in a country where people fight at school board meetings or issue death threats for much action. more benign such as mandatory masks in public schools, where children may only recently have become eligible for a vaccine. Instead, we see such premature declarations of victory as in Florida, where state officials praised “Governor Ron DeSantis’ leadership and our data-driven warrantless approach” for a temporary fall in cases after fall. a harsh summer and early fall in which 21,000 people died under the benevolent rule of the dear Chief of the Sunshine State.
Look, America’s “Whatever Guy” shrug at the growing number of cases is understandable. Americans are a determined people, and since the first big spring drop in the number of cases following the arrival of vaccines this year, the momentum to reopen the economy has been inexorable. Hopefully, with some 200 million citizens having received at least one stroke, the number of cases will not return to the astronomical levels of a year ago – but if they had, there would be no support. public for the harsh measures coming back to Europe.
But the nation is also expected to look at the disturbing new COVID-19 numbers and ask: would it kill people if they were to wear a mask in public spaces in the coming winter months, when the seasonal spread is most prevalent. worse and with many children still not vaccinated? Or, more specifically, will it kill some of us if we don’t?
In retrospect, one of the biggest blunders by U.S. public health officials failed to see the great usefulness of wearing masks in the early weeks of the pandemic. Some 20 months later, we know better – or at least medical researchers know it. We know that even the simplest sheet mask blocks over 50% of aerosols that carry infection and that more sophisticated masks do even better, with evidence in studies conducted everywhere from home to villages. remote areas of largely unvaccinated Bangladesh.
Ironically, some of the best circumstantial evidence that mask wear stops infections – even in the current time of widespread but far from universal vaccination – comes from here in the Philadelphia area. Throughout the fall, officials in the sixth-largest city in the United States – where vaccination rates were nearly 10 percentage points lower than those in neighboring suburban counties – maintained their mask tenure. indoor, unlike the rest of the region. As of September, Philadelphia has reported a lower number of COVID-19 cases than its adjacent counties. âThe only difference I see is the mandate of the mask,â Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s health commissioner, told The Inquirer. âIt’s hard to see what the difference is otherwise. “
As the Christmas season begins, America is at a crossroads. Political leaders can do what’s popular, what’s most opportune, and what can keep Proud Boy’s types of bullying from showing up at school board meetings: they can continue to lift mask mandates, as they go. that employee vaccination mandates take effect. Or they can follow the science – something this country is increasingly terrible for. Buffalo this week reimposed its indoor mask mandate – the city’s hospitals are 90% full as cases rise – but I wonder how many will have the courage to follow suit.
No one likes to wear masks. I don’t, but aside from maybe a week of irrational exuberance in June, I continued to wear them in stores, even now that I’m triple vaccinated. This is because I don’t want to think about the impact of a breakthrough infection on myself or on others around me. But honestly, I’m even more worried about what another peak – when Americans convince themselves the pandemic is almost over – will do for our fragile body politic.
If the nation seemed on the brink of civil war over school masking requirements a few months ago, will new restrictions spark Rotterdam-style unrest here in the United States? The prevailing American mood as 2021 draws to a close was already deeply sour, so what will be the impact on the economic recovery and President Biden and Congress’ efforts to pass legislation for the middle class if care units intensives are full, armed anti-masks are marching over state houses, and the public is generally angrier and more frustrated than it is right now?
Requiring everyone to wear masks in indoor public spaces for a few more months would likely save thousands of lives. It would be a small step for humanity, but it would require a giant step in faith in science. I don’t hold my breath.
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