Of Masks and Men

I’ve really tried to avoid writing a truly Covid-related piece, but I think it’s time. Why? Because yesterday, March 8, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued interim guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated. Additionally, tomorrow, March 10, 2021, Texas will lift its statewide mask mandate.

And here’s what’s interesting. The CDC is now reporting that about 31 million people have been fully vaccinated and an additional 60 million or so have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. There have been about 29 million cases of Covid in the United States, meaning more people have been vaccinated than have had the virus. A study has also indicated that 78% of all Covid hospitalizations in the United States were people who were overweight or obese. In the past few days we have learned a lot about the Covid virus, the vaccine, and the wisdom of reopening. Here is an analysis of the fully vaccinated guidelines and the implications of Texas lifting its mask mandate.

CDC Interim Fully Vaccinated Guidelines

To begin with, a full list of the CDC’s guidelines can be found here. Here are the highlights. A fully vaccinated person can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without a mask or distancing;
  • Visit with low-risk unvaccinated persons from a single household without a mask or distancing; and
  • Disregard quarantine and testing guidelines if they are exposed to the virus.

It is recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks in public, refrain from large gatherings, and get tested if they begin exhibiting Covid symptoms. It should be noted that this is not the law, but merely suggestions being offered by the CDC. Businesses, governments, and individuals can follow it if they’d like but there is not mechanism for enactment or enforcement from the CDC.

Texas Mask Mandate Being Lifted Guidelines

Here is the official release from Governor Greg Abbott’s office regarding the mask mandate. Basically this is what it comes down to: Texas businesses can reopen at 100% capacity, but if Covid-related illness makes up 15% or more of hospitalizations in a region for seven consecutive days, county officials can implement mitigation techniques but cannot force businesses to reduce their capacities to less than 50%. While mitigation techniques can be implemented, governments cannot issue fines or jail time for people caught not wearing a mask.

Interestingly, Governor Abbott’s executive order still recommends that people wear masks and practice social distancing. Additionally, the executive order specifically allows businesses to require patrons and employees to wear masks.

Analysis

So those are the guidelines, offered without passion or prejudice. Now comes the analysis.

In regard to the CDC guidelines, it’s a bit Orwellian. I mean, we all knew this would get a little 1984ish when the CDC said it would be handing out Covid vaccine confirmation cards. It’s like during the Cold War when people crossing from West Germany to East Germany (or vice versa) had to show their papers to get in an out. But then to have these guidelines about what you do indoors with people seems a little…unsettling. In an semi-related note, I would like to hear from those who don’t agree with needing an ID to vote and get their thoughts on the possibility of needing a Covid ID card to go places. But the point is that, historically, governments have not been good about giving rights back to the people after they have taken them away.

I mean, technically speaking, the Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), which held that putting Japanese-Americans in interment camps after the attack on Peral Harbor was constitutional, is still valid law. Sure, everyone from average Joes to the Department of Justice have condemned the case for its clear bigotry (which it absolutely was), but the case has never been overturned. And that’s not a great look for government when you’re talking about something like Covid vaccinations. Is it really that difficult to imagine a time in the near future where you don’t qualify for employment or government benefits or mortgages or anything else without showing you were vaccinated?

And by the way, I’m pro-vaccination. I’ll get it when I’m eligible, and I think everyone should get it because the odds of antivaxxers being correct about…well, anything…seem low. I’m also all for wearing masks in public for a while. Even if a business doesn’t have a mask requirement, I would wear one. And depending on how crowded it is, I might not even go in. More on this “revolutionary” idea later.

But I don’t like being told what to do. And I don’t like the idea of a bunch of lab coats in Atlanta telling the suits in Washington, D.C. how the jeans-and-t-shirts of the rest of the country should behave. But then again, the CDC only offers guidelines and doesn’t enact law, so for now it’s probably a no harm, no foul situation. But I still don’t like the thought of being fully vaccinated against Covid and still being told how to act and where to go and not go.

In regard to Texas lifting the mask mandate, I’m a bit torn. On one hand, I don’t think the government should have been as involved as it was. I don’t think the government should be able to tell businesses to implement mask guidelines, and I think the market would provide solutions for that because generally speaking businesses that would have chosen not to implement mask mandates would probably have changed their tune after being forced to shut down for a month because of positive Covid tests.

On the other hand, it seems soon to lift mask mandates. I’ve talked to several people who work at hospitals around Dallas, including Parkland Hospital, UT Southwestern, and Baylor downtown. They have horror stories of patients being contorted into disused closets because there are no more available beds. There are stories of doctors not seeing their families in weeks because of quarantining, and of Covid outbreaks in different areas of the hospital. And while people will accurately rant and rave about how Covid really isn’t all that deadly, those folks are missing the point. The point isn’t the lethality, it’s the fact that it spreads easy, there’s no real cure, and it’s putting hospitals in dire straights from a capacity standpoint.

Ultimately, however, I agree with Governor Abbott, which is not something I’m used to doing. I think economic recovery needs to begin soon or we’re going to have some very bad situations across the country. The stimulus packages keep getting larger with less going to actual people, and the money for those packages is basically being conjured out of thin air, which hurts the entire economy in ways different but no less serious than having a wildly poor populace.

And for those who are about to make the seatbelt argument (that is: why is it okay for the government to mandate seatbelts but not masks?) I say this: I don’t think wearing a seatbelt should be mandatory. Or rather, it should be mandatory if you’re under 18, but once you can vote, you should be able to ride around without a seatbelt if you want. How many people would actually drive around without a seatbelt? Not many. In fact, I think at 18 you should be able to drink, rent a car, and do all sorts of “adult” stuff, but that’s a soapbox for a different day. And I think masks work the same way. I know, there’s a difference because the masks are meant to protect others as well as the wearer, but still.

But I also think it’s imperative to protect property rights. Businesses (and homes, for that matter) should be able to have a mask mandate and refuse service or entry to anyone who doesn’t abide by that. The new Texas guidelines prevent jail time or fines for refusing to wear a mask, but they don’t say anything about trespassing. If you have a mask mandate and someone comes into your store without a mask talking about their right to not wear one, tell them to leave and call the police if they don’t.

That’s the beautiful thing about personal rights. A lot of the time, your personal rights stop where someone else’s property rights begin. As a business owner, I could require people to wear HAZMAT suits if I wanted to, and if they didn’t but also refuse to leave, they could be arrested for trespassing. That’s a tenet of capitalism: Private property rights. And they’re beautiful because it allows people to keep the crazies away from them. In the same vein, if a business doesn’t have a mask policy, you are well within your rights to wear one anyway. And if you’re not comfortable with that? Don’t go to that business. Give their competitors a new customer. That’s how this whole system works, and it’s a good system if people will stick with it.

TL;DR

For people over the age of 35 or so, “tl;dr” stands for “too long; didn’t read” and is generally used when people provide a succinct summation of an otherwise verbose argument. That’s the case here. Here is my tl;dr: Governments shouldn’t be able to force anyone to wear a mask, but people should wear masks. Additionally, private businesses should implement mask mandates, and should enforce them with the help of police if necessary. Sometimes it’s important to rely on people using a bit of common sense and an evolutionary sense of survival instead of having the government be a combination of Mary Poppins and Nurse Ratched. I, for one, will continue wearing a mask everywhere until I have the vaccine or doctors say it’s safe to do so. I think everyone else should do the same, but I’m not here to force anyone to do anything.

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