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Politics vs. 'Science:' What's Behind Democrats' Sudden Shift on School Mask Mandates?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

It was almost as if a memorandum went out.  In rapid succession on Monday, Democratic leaders from a group of blue states on both coasts -- New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, California, Oregon -- announced end dates for statewide mask mandates.  Each new policy was slightly different, with varying expiration dates and minor details (California, for example, is wavering on what to do about school masks) -- but the upshot was the same: It's time for a restoration of normalcy, and 'the science' now permits it.  It's true that the less virulent but highly contagious Omicron wave that blasted through much of the population in December and January is rapidly subsiding, with case counts plunging, but that doesn't explain the shift in forced masking of children.

As we've documented repeatedly, the data has shown for well over a year that mask mandates in schools have no scientifically-established upside on stopping transmission among students (who are already at exceptionally low risk of experiencing severe or lethal COVID), but such requirements do present verifiable harms to kids' development, learning progress and mental health.  That science has not changed.  To pretend otherwise is to invent a new standard to align with an emerging political reality.  Polling has shown that a majority, or even a supermajority, of Americans want to get more or less back to normal while learning to live with this endemic virus.  A series of high-profile photo-ops featuring pro-mask-mandate Democratic politicians violating their preferred rules (or even their own rules) have received a great deal of attention.  Public sentiment is changing, and various displays from hypocritical officials have fostered growing resentment against the ruling party.  Something had to change.  And the sudden flurry press releases and news conferences announcing said change have unfolded so abruptly that even journalists from left-leaning outfits can't help but notice the apparent coordination:


What has also been fascinating, but entirely predictable, is a relative lack of condemnation and hysteria from the media and 'expert' chorus.  Virginia's Glenn Youngkin (R) was excoriated for following through on his campaign pledge to make masking optional in schools.  Democrat-run counties promptly sued to block his order, and to maintain forced masking, accompanied by all the unhinged rhetoric to which we've grown accustomed.  That freakout was in late January.  It's now...early February, and the other tribe is now stampeding in Youngkin's direction (more on that below).  Sure, some 'forever COVID' neurotics are complaining about "safety," but the overall reaction has been muted.  Democratic governors are not getting the Youngkin treatment -- or the DeSantis treatment, for that matter, and Florida's governor was right about schools all along.  Again, the science around child masking didn't change.  The politics did.  Science (R) is bad; Science (D) is good.  That's an over-simplification, sure, but it has strong explanatory value.  And thus the propagandists are doing what they do:

Deflection, water-muddying, and gaslighting.  Notice how when a top Democratic leader is asked to provide evidence in support of the school mask mandates he's planning to end a month from now, he can't answer the question:

In fairness to Gov. Murphy, how else would you spin data like this on required masking and real-world results?


This is why so many mask dead-enders have resorted to flat assertion, incoherent dissembling, and insulting logical fallacies as they attempt to defend their policies.  With public opinion on the move, and pandemic panic finally looking like a clear political loser, some are rushing to exit ramps, backfilling excuses as they go.  These about-faces are welcome news for long-suffering children, but leaders who've ignored the science, in favor of The Science, up until the the moment that the latter became politically untenable, are hardly heroic.  Here's another example of the "changing science due to politics" phenomenon regarding this pandemic:

The Biden administration is working on recalculating the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations in the U.S., according to two senior officials familiar with the matter. A task force comprised of scientists and data specialists at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with hospitals nationwide to improve Covid-19 reporting. The group is asking hospitals to report numbers of patients who go to the facility because they have Covid-19 and separate those from individuals who go in for other reasons and test positive after being admitted, the two officials said. The administration’s goal is to get a more accurate sense of Covid-19’s impact across the country and whether the virus is causing severe disease. Senior Biden health officials have increasingly relied on hospitalization numbers, rather than case counts, to determine how to respond to the virus as well as the efficacy of the vaccines. Lower hospitalization rates could inform the administration’s thinking on public health measures such as masking.

Just in the nick of time.  This should have been done all along, as incidental COVID positives discovered during mandated, routine testing upon hospital admittance has been a longstanding and widespread reality.  It has driven up supposed 'COVID hospitalization' case counts and has inflated the perceived threat.  If, say, Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott had done precisely this last year, they would have been assailed for 'manipulating the data.' Now that the Biden White House is eager to extricate itself from its self-made political predicament in the face of popular sentiment, they're shifting how Coronavirus hospitalizations are tallied -- and when the resulting numbers inevitably look far less scary, they'll use that 'achievement' as a pretext to reduce requirements and suspend mandates.  To reiterate, I have no problem with this far more sensible approach being installed as the new metric.  But the timing and underlying rationale is so transparently cynical from this crowd, which rode the wave of COVID fear until they no longer could.  Their exit strategy is a political maneuver, plain and simple.  They'll try to dress is up as data-driven and Sciencey.  Don't fall for it.  Finally, with a project of COVID revisionism aggressively underway, I'll leave you with a reminder of this, from the start of the current academic year:


The U.S. Department of Education launched investigations Monday into five states that prohibit schools from setting universal mask mandates, setting the stage for potential enforcement actions as the Biden administration spars with Republican governors over COVID-19 precautions. The investigations by the agency’s office for civil rights will determine whether those policies—in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah—threaten education access for students with disabilities and health vulnerabilities who do not feel safe attending school in person without virus mitigation strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Biden administration launched Civil Rights investigations into five red states for not requiring forcible masking in schools just a few months ago.  Are they going to sic the feds onto Jersey, Delaware, et al?  It's a rhetorical question.  By the way, just because blue states are falling like dominoes on the school mask mandates does not mean that parents will actually have choices in many of the affected local communities.  These Democratic governors aren't requiring choice; they're simply dropping statewide requirements.  With CDC's hyper-cautious, anti-science guidance still in place, preening local officials and neurotic parents will likely seek to keep mandates in place for the foreseeable future.  But that may reach a tipping point, too, as it has in Virginia.  Big, big victory here for science, children in the state, and Gov. Youngkin:


Bipartisan blowout.  Republicans should introduce similar legislation in every state around the country that still has school mask mandates.  This bill splintered Virginia Democrats right down the middle, with unified Republican support.  It's a win all the way around -- and something that would be excellent for Youngkin to tout during, say, a State of the Union response.  I'll leave you with one of America's dimmest bulbs -- who tragically has the political clout to corruptly influence The Science -- demonstrating that she clearly has not received her party's new talking points yet.  Give her a few weeks or months, she's a bit slow:


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