Incoherence: Vaccinated Senator and Vaccinated Top Doctors Chat Outdoors...Wearing Masks

Posted: May 20, 2021 10:25 AM

I guess I've become that person. For most of the pandemic, I was baffled by anti-mask tribalism on the Right, even as mask shamers on the Left struck me as abrasive and annoying. Faced with limited tools against a highly infectious virus that was killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, masking up as a mitigation step, particularly indoors, struck me as sensible and laudable. But something has changed: We no longer have a weak or non-existent arsenal against the virus. For those who contract it, therapeutics and treatments have improved measurably, although the downsides of catching COVID are still potentially serious for a pretty large number of people who survive it. More importantly, we have three safe and effective vaccines that offer tremendous protection against bad COVID outcomes and are stopping the pandemic in its tracks. 

So my position on masking has shifted considerably, in light of this reality. It's time to lift the mandates. The CDC has finally adjusted its guidance to reflect how successful the vaccines are, recommending that vaccinated people can shed masks and stop social distancing altogether. Unvaccinated people are all making a choice at this point. They're choosing not to avail themselves of immunization doses to which they have easy access. The vaccinated don't need to fear the unvaccinated, and the unvaccinated are making a risk assessment decision for themselves. I don't want to become a reverse mask shamer because vaccinated people who want to remain double masked in their houses should be free to live out their political superstitions and cling to their neuroses for as long as they'd like. It's a free country. But they shouldn't try to impose those bizarre choices onto anyone else and ought to be resisted and ignored whenever they attempt to do so. The only maskaholics I feel inclined to really criticize are public officials who are actively contributing to confusion and incoherence through their actions. 

I've done so with President Biden, who has continued to wear masks, even outdoors – and even after making a splashy announcement at the White House about the CDC dropping its masking recommendation for people like Biden, who was fully vaccinated prior to taking office. Dr. Anthony Fauci famously and indignantly denied the accusation from Sen. Rand Paul last month that Fauci's nearly-universal mask usage as a fully-vaccinated person was more about "theater" than anything else. Fauci took great umbrage, but Paul was basically correct. I can understand Fauci's reasoning. He didn't want to ditch the mask, even though it was overwhelmingly safe for him to so as an inoculated person, because he didn't want to get out in front of the CDC's excruciatingly belated shift in policy. That may be a defensible call, but it doesn't change the fact that Fauci's ubiquitous mask has been worn largely for show or message reinforcement in recent months, as opposed to what was wise or necessary based on the data. Fauci has now more or less admitted as much. So what's this about? 

Durbin was vaccinated in December. So were Fauci and Collins. They've all been fully vaccinated since January. This photo was taken in mid-May, as they all stood and conversed outdoors, days after the CDC guidance Fauci didn't want to get ahead of had already been issued. Fauci said in one of his countless television interviews that his reason for masking up post-vaccination was to avoid giving "mixed signals" to the public. Fauci has also said that outdoor masking is unnecessary, even among unvaccinated people in many scenarios, and that all masking is unnecessary for immunized Americans.  Wouldn't reinforcing this point, and not "mixing" messages, require him to scrupulously unmask at this stage, particularly outside and around fellow vaccinated officials?  I honestly cannot help but wonder if he's feeling pressure from his left-leaning flock to actually ignore the science and continue masking as a tribal signal. We're learning that many people who've chanted "follow the science" for more than a year don't actually believe the meaning of those words. Meanwhile, here's Fauci further "clarifying" what the CDC meant: 

Understood, but here's the thing: Many polls show that anti-vaccine people are the most likely to contingent to ignore mask mandates, which has been true for months. And at this point, the likeliest people to mask up are...the fully vaccinated. It's exactly backward, which feels appropriate for this stupid era. Relatedly, arguments about people not knowing who is and isn't vaxxed as a justification for continued mask requirements ("we don't want to have to guess or operate on the honor system!") are silly. If you're vaccinated, you are overwhelmingly safe. It doesn't matter whether others around you are also vaccinated. You are. And those who aren't vaxxed are making that call for themselves, and are statistically inclined to ignore rules and mandates on this front anyway. In other words, outmoded restrictions aren't really making anyone "safer" at this point, but they are needlessly aggravating and confusing a lot of people, and fueling all sorts of mixed messaging – which Fauci says he's taken great pains to avoid. Open up.