With a Whimper
COVID restrictions in some of the most restrictive states are finally dropping and it's about damn time
One of the most satisfying things about being anti-vaccine mandate and anti-mask mandate is that there is rarely a position that you can take where you can be certain of total victory. But vaccine mandates and mask mandates were never a tenable long-term COVID mitigation strategy and it was obvious from the beginning that they had to end.
Even so, it is incredible to watch the speed with which the states and municipalities still holding onto these mitigations have shed them. This week was supposed to be my monthly state-by-state COVID data review, but I’ve decided to push that back a week because I want to capture this moment as it is happening.
This has all happened so fast that I feel caught off-guard by it. This last week has been such a firehose of pandemic revisions, it’s hard to know where to start.
That’s not true. It’s easy to know where to start. Let’s start with the CDC.
The CDC’s Long Overdue Revisions
At the beginning of this pandemic, there was a Democratic presidential primary and one of the questions that was asked in late February 2020 was “What would you do about coronavirus?” The answer, from nearly every candidate, was that they would increase funding to the CDC.
Before this pandemic, the CDC has long been an agency widely ignored by the public. The CDC has famously warned the public about the perils of sunny-side-up eggs, medium-rare steaks, sushi, and eating raw cookie dough. If there was one person we could blame for this pandemic, it would be the mid-level manager at the CDC who wished upon a monkey’s paw that people would actually take the CDC seriously for once.
The CDC has been making recommendations for the last 2 years that are out-of-touch with reality or plainly ridiculous. As an example, their guidance for outdoor overnight summer camps this time last year was mandatory masking for all children 15 hours a day. For three months, there was an open question about whether they were allowed to take masks off to sleep.
The reason the CDC made recommendations like this is because they are entirely unaccustomed to people taking them seriously. They over-recommend safety due to a decades-long assumption that people are going to actually listen to only one-third of their guidance.
COVID changed all that. Suddenly the CDC guidance became something people followed to the letter. People started taking “recommended” practices and treating them as “required”. It quickly became clear to people who were following the details of CDC guidance that their COVID recommendations were absurd and based on a vision of how things should world that simply did not correspond to the real world. But as states, cities, schools, and churches sought some kind of authoritative guidance on how to protect themselves from COVID, the CDC became the go-to source.
The changes from the CDC this week are huge. First of all, they have changed their guidance on transmission levels. In light of the COVID outbreaks this last January, the CDC has massively re-aligned their metrics on COVID spread.
Similarly, contact tracing of existing cases used to be considered an important element of reducing COVID spread. Starting February 28, 2022, the CDC discourages universal case investigation for COVID, implicitly recognizing that the disruption and chaos this causes is not well balanced against any reduction in spread.
As the CDC’s recommendations have moved from “no one cares” to “we will organize our society around your every utterance”, their formal recommendations have become incredibly important. But that also means that when they revise their guidance (as they have in this past week) there is a cascading effect throughout the country.
The Mandate Domino Effect
Mask mandates were already starting to fall before the CDC guidance got updated, but this week has been one collapse after another. It’s been less than a week but New York has lifted its mask mandate for schools, followed quickly by a reversal of the mask mandate and vaccine mandate in New York City.
A day later, California, Oregon, and Washington all announced they were dropping their statewide school mask mandates. Hawaii is the only remaining state that has no end-date for masks requirements.
This is all very good news. This is exactly what I’ve wanted for well over a year and I welcome it.
The only negative caveat I have in all this is that the influences that have driven this change are fairly dark. It is not at all clear why the CDC changes were made or how these conversations came about. Nothing about the disease has changed since this time last year when vaccines were widely available, cases were decreasing from the winter surge, and we were 40 days into President Biden’s “mask up for 100 days” proposal.
In this last year, nothing has moved the pro-masking politicians, judges, and advocates. Not the reams of evidence that mask mandates and vaccine mandates are ineffective, not the learning gaps among masked students, not the begging from parents.
What broke the spell more than the science or the suffering was the polling.
Last week a memo from Impact Research leaked in which they advised Democrats to claim that they have ended the COVID crisis and remove all restrictions.
It could very well be that the drop of mandates are all coincidentally following disastrous polling on COVID, but I’m deeply skeptical of that. It’s a hard road to convince me that the change in masking guidance at the Capitol means that COVID is suddenly less dangerous just in time for the State of the Union address.
Yes, we should celebrate the end of these restrictions. But we are not quite at the “this is over” stage. We are now in the pandemic’s “aftermath” stage. Here we will need to do some very serious introspection about what happened, how we were plunged into two years of mandates and restrictions, and how we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Disney Shorts: Goofy Gymnastics (1949)
I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way Goofy became something of an avatar for the striving impressionable American middle-class consumer. Many of his solo shorts begin with him buying the promises made to him in the pages of a magazine or how-to book and end up as a sort of hilarious commentary contrasting the breezy confidence of a book or instructor against clumsiness of their remote pupils.
This cartoon has Goofy setting up a home gym and attempting a variety of exercises, each with its own unique and innovative set of entertaining failures. That the short is less a narrative and more a collection of physical comedy gags is forgivable because the gags are good. They all start out with Goofy attempting to follow the instructor’s simple direction and then turning himself in to knots (literally) trying to keep up. There is an escalation to the comedy that keeps it moving and it’s just a lot of fun physical slapstick.