Writing at the Wall Street Journal this week, Nicole Saphier has a very simple message for the CDC. “Dr. Fauci, Tear Off These Masks.” This new spin on a famous speech by Ronald Reagan wasn’t some sort of April Fools joke. The author lays out a very cogent argument as to why we are already much closer to the point where there’s little to no benefit from vaccinated people wearing face masks than most health officials and politicians are willing to admit. Continuing to enforce these mandates at that point would be little more than bureaucratic oppression. And the target date for ending the mandates should be Memorial Day weekend.
When will it be safe to shop at a grocery store or show up at the office without wearing a mask? Sooner than most experts are willing to admit. If the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S. continues on its current trajectory, the need for masks outside particular local outbreak areas will pass in a matter of weeks.
One way to think about the problem is by analogy to seasonal influenza. Hardly anybody wears a mask in ordinary settings to protect against the flu, and no one is required to do so. The worst flu seasons of recent years saw an average of 220 deaths a day nationwide. The seven-day moving average for Covid-19 daily deaths hovers around 900, still considerably worse. But that’s a 78% reduction since January, and the trends are favorable almost everywhere in the country. When the 14-day rolling average of daily Covid deaths has come down below flu level, which may happen within the next month or two, we should adjust our thinking about the coronavirus accordingly.
Nicole Saphier isn’t speaking as some armchair quarterback with a newspaper column. She’s a physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Saphier is making the same point I’ve quoted other doctors making here in the past. For the first year that COVID was tearing through the country, it was arguably far worse than the seasonal flu in terms of infection rates, serious cases requiring hospitalization, and mortality rates. But there were several good reasons for that. The disease was brand new and we not only lacked a viable vaccine for it but doctors didn’t even have any experience in what medications might be effective in reducing its symptoms.
Conversely, we’ve been dealing with the flu for as long as anyone can remember. People receive flu vaccinations in huge numbers each year and that’s particularly true among the most vulnerable, specifically the elderly and those with underlying respiratory ailments. If you do catch the flu and go see your doctor, they have a host of medicines that will ease the severity of your symptoms and greatly reduce your risk of dying or requiring ICU treatment. As the doctor points out, we know how to deal with the flu and there has never been a requirement from the government for anyone to wear a mask to prevent its spread.
We are now approaching that same scenario with COVID. A significant percentage of the most vulnerable people have already been vaccinated and that number goes up by several million every day. If you do contract the virus, doctors now have more tools available to help you fight it, such as Remdesivir, which has already been approved by the FDA specifically for treating COVID. Sooner rather than later, COVID is going to be little more than a different variation of the flu that we’ll have to be aware of and take precautions against every season.
Multiple surveys have now shown that the thing people most look forward to when the world returns to “normal” is no longer having to wear masks. There soon will be no scientifically sound rationale for the government to continue forcing everyone to wear them. That’s not to mention the clinical studies showing that the cloth masks most people wear (as opposed to surgical quality masks) provide statistically insignificant protection to the uninfected anyway.
I’m not saying that face masks should be banned. If you want to keep on wearing one every time you leave your home, feel free. But that should be an individual decision for everyone. Simply repeating the liberal chorus by chanting “you don’t have a right to make other people sick” is neither honest nor based in science. Both the CDC and all levels of state government need to rethink this issue quickly or they’re going to have a facemask rebellion on their hands.