The growing list of public officials who insist everyone wear masks all the time while reserving the right to flout such rules themselves is a rogue’s gallery of governors, mayors, and public health officials.
You can now add to that list professional school closure advocate and teachers’ union boss, Randi Weingarten. Over the weekend, footage emerged of an unmasked Weingarten enjoying the equally unmasked company of hundreds of her colleagues inside a packed ballroom in Puerto Rico, which still has an indoor mask mandate.
Weingarten’s explanation was that it was alright for her to ignore the rules because she is vaccinated. “I wear a mask most of the time indoors,” she said. “We took them off as people were having a hard time hearing us.”
Weingarten is correct on both counts. Vaccinated people shouldn’t have to wear masks. As well, it is difficult to understand people when they are masked, which is why the parents of children who have been forced to cover their faces for seven hours every day in school have been demanding an end to mask mandates. While many red states long ago abandoned mask-wearing in schools, many blue cities and school districts, dominated by the demands of teachers’ unions, have yet to do so.
As former FDA Chairman Scott Gottlieb noted recently, with COVID vaccination rates where they are (and promising therapeutics about to hit the market to treat those who do fall ill with the virus), now is not the time to double down on federal mandates, such as Biden’s OSHA provisions for federal workers. The same is true for mask mandates.
And yet, here is CDC director Rochelle Walensky a few days ago urging everyone to keep wearing masks and claiming, incorrectly, that doing so will reduce your chance of infection “by more than 80%.” Note that Walensky added, “Masks also help protect from other illnesses like common cold and flu. Wearing a mask- along w/ getting vaccinated- are important steps to stay healthy.”
Likewise, ABC News published a fear-mongering piece over the weekend by Dr. Jay Bhatt, in which he claimed that even fully-vaccinated people who have received booster shots should act as if we are still at the height of the pandemic. “For your safety and the safety of those around you—including kids who are about to start getting their vaccinations—it’s time to take a deep breath, tap the brakes, continue using your mask indoors, and not re-engage with large crowds just yet,” he wrote.
Like Walensky, Bhatt’s justifications are only partly COVID-related. He wants to see continued mask-wearing and social distancing because “it’s flu season” and “other viruses are out there.”
Reasonable people who point out that, yes, viruses have always been “out there,” and we haven’t masked in perpetuity nor shut down everyday life to accommodate that fact, are now being told that we should take safety precautions to pandemic-level extremes for any and every virus for the foreseeable future.
This is no longer about public health; it’s about who wields public power—and who refuses to acknowledge the limits of that power now that we are no longer in a pandemic.
In Washington, D.C., which still has an indoor mask mandate, business owners, particularly those who run gyms and other indoor athletic facilities, have been begging city officials to end the mask mandate that has driven many of them out of business. “Did you know that the fitness industry has lost roughly 25% of all businesses permanently since the start of the pandemic?” the owner of the Solidcore gym franchise told city officials at a recent public hearing. “Did you know that the fitness industry is the only hard-hit industry that hasn’t received targeted relief from our government, unlike restaurants, performance venues, and so many others? Our industry is truly hurting, and we need your support.”
Business owners have sent letters to the Mayor and the DC Health Department requesting information about when the city’s COVID case numbers would reach a level deemed safe enough to lift the mandate. The city didn’t even bother to respond to them.
The response of DC Health chief Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt at a recent hearing was telling. “I’m a little challenged to make them comfortable because I think, as an industry, I get the most letters from them. They’re often accusatory, factually inaccurate, and somewhat bullying,” she complained. “When I feel that the District is in a good enough place and we have enough of our vulnerable residents, including our children, 5 to 11 who have a degree of personal protection, then I’ll make the recommendation to the mayor to remove the indoor mandate. OK, is that clear?”
In other words, Nesbitt will rescind a restrictive and unnecessary mandate when she feels like it, without providing the public with any science-based metrics for when that might be.
Note to Dr. Nesbitt: When the public asks for metrics regarding the lifting of mask mandates (which, as part of your job, you should be providing) they are not “bullying” you. And if you believe that being asked by the public, whose tax dollars pay your generous $211,000 salary, to answer their reasonable questions is tantamount to harassment, you might not have the temperament to be a public official and should step down.
Alternatively, citizens in places that continue to insist on restrictive mask mandates should start pushing back. The recent victories of Republicans in off-year elections in places like Virginia and New Jersey were not only about Critical Race Theory in schools. Those outcomes were also a response to prolonged COVID-related school closures and ongoing draconian masking mandates for children.
New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams is already signaling he’s listening to these concerns. He told reporters over the weekend that he wants to lift the mask mandates in schools once he is sworn into office. Like Washington, D.C., New York City health officials have failed to establish clear metrics for when masking in schools can safely end. City officials “could not say what it would take to lift the mask requirement in public schools, even as kids aged 5 and up can now get the COVID-19 vaccine,” the New York Post noted.
COVID is now endemic. Between widely available vaccines and therapeutic drugs, there is no longer any reason to continue to treat it as a public health emergency. One of the strongest signals our elected officials and public health bureaucrats could send to acknowledge that reality is to end the remaining mask mandates. Those who do not, and who fail to cede the emergency powers the public temporarily granted them now that the emergency is over, should be punished at the ballot box.