After a year of living under quarantine, people are desperate to return to “normal”, any vague semblance of normal, to a point that outweighs reason, science, or common sense.
By Anatole d’Ecotopia
Photo: Artur Kornakov
The CDC decision to lift mask requirements for the vaccinated is equal parts politics and science, predicated on an assumption that is essentially unprovable, as well as one that is flatly wrong. If it should wind up being the wrong decision, the result will be more politics… not more science.
Let’s start with the essentially unprovable assumption. The CDC decision is based on the assumption that the vaccines rushed into production to combat the pandemic will not only remain effective against known Covid variant strains for a significant period, they will be effective as well against continually proliferating variants as the virus continues to mutate.
This may be an entirely reasonable assumption, but it does exceed the limits of what is scientifically provable. These vaccines were, with good reason, rushed into production with far less testing than is typically applied to vaccines or any other pharmaceutical product. To the question of their long term efficacy, much less their effectiveness against emerging new strains, the only honest answer can be: We don’t know.
What this means is that, even if the increasing numbers who choose to forego masking in public are truly vaccinated (more on that in a moment), the protection offered by that vaccination may become increasingly problematic at exactly the seasonal moment when infection by any coronavirus (including flu and the common cold) is most likely. Urging people to resume public masking will be far more difficult than it was to get them to do so in the first place. Should the vaccines distributed to date prove even slightly less effective than currently assumed… The end result will be another surge, perhaps the most deadly one yet.
This is further complicated by the flatly wrong assumption that those who are choosing to forego public masking are, indeed, vaccinated. In the absence of any sort of any sort of easily identified proof of vaccination (for example, a laminated vaccination card hanging from a lanyard around one’s neck), the assumption of vaccination — after months of anti-vax paranoia and disinformation — is simply too trusting. With the best of intentions, the CDC may well be setting up the mother of all super-spreader events.
Unfortunately, the politics of this questionable decision so far outweigh scientific considerations as to render it inevitable. After a year of living under quarantine, people are desperate to return to “normal”, any vague semblance of normal, to a point that outweighs reason, science, or common sense. For better or worse, the great unmasking is inevitable.
But not necessarily ubiquitous.
There will be those who continue to wear the mask. In some parts of the country, they will be the recipients of scorn and hostility — ironically, this is most likely to be the case in the regions that have suffered the most. But not everyone is equally vested in the idea of “normal”. For many among us, “normal” was never anything more than an oppressive fiction. The nostalgically treasured normal of backyard barbecues and high school graduations is also the “normal” of officially-sanctioned police murders, out of control global climate change, and the unfettered greed of an equally out of control global corporate capitalist elite — unworthy of either nostalgia or sacrifice.
And there will indeed be “sacrifice” on the altar of normalcy. If the worst possible result of the great unmaking comes to pass, the consequences will go far beyond the resumption of public masking. The unfolding surveillance state that already monitors too much of our lives will become even more pervasive. The selfish self-styled libertarians who brought us to this pass will see their worst nightmare brought into fruition.
And they will have only themselves to blame.