Sen. Rand Paul and top Biden adviser Anthony Fauci had a spat on Thursday over masks, vaccination, and reinfection. Partisans of both sides claimed victory, but the public lost because they never addressed the underlying question:
When does this all end?
Fauci seemed to argue that no amount of vaccine uptake can free us from the need to wear masks, pointing to coronavirus variants. A day earlier, reporters on Twitter assailed conservative writer Noah Rothman for suggesting that once fully vaccinated, he’ll shed his mask and live a normal life. “Your vaccine may not protect others,” they warned, believing that we must assume every bad possibility until science disproves it.
Fauci isn’t so much to blame here. His job is literally to tell us things are not safe. The job of the rest of us, including the media, is to decide when to ignore our government health scolds. (Have you ever eaten cold leftovers straight from the fridge? Uncle Sam would be very disappointed in you.)
Some people are simply terrified of the virus out of a real but vastly irrational fear. Some people seem to find a sense of purpose in lockdowns. Politicians and health authorities enjoy the power and attention it gives them. For others, the last year has seemed like one long snow day, or one of those summer nights when a power outage drives all the neighbors to the sidewalks, everyone eating ice cream before it melts, and it’s kind of a nice moment.
But this isn’t a nice moment. Lockdowns and mask mandates are not good things. They are, at best, necessary evils. They are evil because of the costs they impose on human thriving. But they are also evil because every day they are in place, the people and the powerful both grow more and more accustomed to a daily life in which the government gets to tell us how to live.
Lockdowns, distancing requirements, and mask mandates need to end as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean today. It doesn’t mean tomorrow. But it means at some point.
Our leaders and health experts have a duty to articulate, right away, standards of when these should end.
Fauci, President Biden, every governor, every mayor, and every county executive who is still enforcing lockdown measures should say, “I will lift them when …”
It seems unconscionable that any lockdowns should stay in place after vaccine demand is met. That is, once everyone who wants a vaccine has one (and once it’s taken effect 10 days or 2 weeks after the jab), then people at risk are almost all people willing to bear that risk.
Another possible threshold is once R-0, the reproductive rate of the virus, is below 1 for a week or two. That means the virus is steadily dying out. This will happen in some places earlier than others, and those places should open up internally, even if they continue to limit travel.
Excess deaths is another measure. Pretty soon, the United States will see all weekly deaths, by all causes, be equal to the total deaths from that same week in 2019 and 2018. At that point, we’re no longer experiencing a deadly pandemic.
We cannot wait for COVID-19 to disappear. That might never happen. And maybe Fauci has his own yardsticks. Maybe New York City will propose others. Maybe we’ll all disagree over the right ones.
But every public health authority and every government executive should lay down his or her proposed “finish line” right away. At least then, we’ll have something to fight over. Because right now, it seems indefinite. And indefinite “emergency powers” for the government are lethal to human freedom.