A rational discussion on mask policy.
"JUST FOLLOW THE SCIENCE"
A cornerstone of our nation’s structure is that Military decision making is ultimately controlled by Civilians. It is our Congress and our President, elected by the people, that have the final say in any Military action that the US may engage in.
We as a country have agreed that decisions like starting a major conflict abroad, or withdrawing from one, carry with them major consequences for our Civilian population. Therefore, we’ve determined these broad strategic decisions are best guided by the will of the people instead of being left to a small group of Generals.
We argue about a lot in this country, but nobody really argues with this… Why?
Do Civilians know more about War? Do Civilians know more about the threats that exist? Shouldn’t we just leave all conflict related decisions to our tactical experts?
The high-level rationale goes, “if Generals made those decisions, we’d have a Military dictatorship really quickly.” Consolidating the decision making of the US Military to a small group or single individual is just too much power in the hands of too few, and they would inevitably use that power to take over all other decision making for the country.
There’s a secondary reason that people also inherently understand which is “if you only have a hammer everything starts to look like a nail.” People who are solely focused on potential threats while having a considerable arsenal at their disposal are inevitably going to find a reason to put 2 and 2 together regardless of whether it’s the right call.
US Generals are some of the best individuals we produce as a country. They’ve seen the worst the world has to offer, make impossible tactical decisions that haunt them even when they’re right, remain humble as subordinates of a Civilian leadership structure, and don’t enjoy fame or fortune at the end of this long and difficult road.
But we still don’t trust them, some of the best among us, with broader strategic conflict decisions… and it works.
We haven’t devolved into a Military Dictatorship and, although we do seem to think that a lot of problems can be solved with a drone strike, we have a robust diplomatic infrastructure in this country that’s served us well to avoid many conflicts.
What does any of this have to do with wearing a mask?
There’s this suffocating weight laid on any discussion about mask policy right now, that if you question the CDC guidelines you are somehow acting irrationally. That we should just go along with the decisions of a relatively small group of tactical experts in this conflict against the threat of COVID.
Not being allowed to even present a good faith argument in opposition is a bad idea. This is something we know naturally when it comes to Military decisions, but one that we haven’t internalized as a nation yet when it comes to Scientific decisions.
“There’s no time for all that unnecessary scrutiny, if we don’t act people will die!” – Every Military General wanting to start a conflict ever.
“There’s no time for all that unnecessary scrutiny, if we don’t act people will die!” – The Scientific community addressing COVID policy in 2021.
CDC Scientists are not inherently better people than US Generals. They do not hold more expertise in their field than US Generals carry in theirs. They are just as corruptible, just as capable of tunnel vision, just as susceptible to all the pitfalls that come along with being laser focused on a single thing that you’ve determined is the most important, all else falling to a distant second.
“It’s different,” no it’s not. You just perceive Scientists differently than you perceive Generals. They are conceptually interchangeable relative to their subject matter. We even talk about Scientists as being “on the front lines fighting the virus.”
These decisions have massive consequences on the civilian population, yet we don’t apply the same logic to the decision-making process as we do in the case of Military conflict. Instead, our Civilian leadership at the national level is all but acting as a pass-through for a small group of scientists, and anyone who pushes back at the State and Local level gets branded an extremist.
^Literally this entire open exists simply to make the point that there is sound logic to non-scientists weighing in on COVID policy without being told to shut up and just “follow the science.”
With that in mind, here is the rationale behind what I believe a sound mask policy would look like.
I AM VACCINATED
My wife and I got the vaccine when it became available to our age group.
She has an auto-immune issue, so we made the decision to get vaccinated. Ended up at a FEMA facility in Orlando being guided through giant tents by soldiers like a low-budget sci-fi movie. It was a surreal experience. I didn’t have any side effects while my wife had the chills that evening and then was fine the next day.
If you’re an adult, I encourage you to go get vaccinated. It is abundantly clear in the data that if you’re vaccinated, you’re almost certain not to die from COVID and its variants.
You’re also far less likely to take up a hospital bed that could otherwise be used for things that aren’t easily preventable. Hospitals have limited resources, and in my opinion it’s a legitimately noble effort to help prevent them from having to use those resources unnecessarily.
“An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May shows that “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 107,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That’s about 1.1%.”
There were almost 1M confirmed cases of COVID in the US in May 2021.
We don’t currently track “Breakthrough” Cases when simply testing, but that only around 1200 vaccinated people were hospitalized means that of all the ~1 Million COVID cases in America in May 2021 approximately 0.12% resulted in a vaccinated person laying in a hospital bed.
If you take into consideration all the unconfirmed cases, either asymptomatic people or people who had symptoms and simply didn’t get tested, that number potentially drops down to fractions of fractions of a percent for people that get vaccinated and still end up in a hospital due to COVID.
So again, I encourage you to go get vaccinated if you’re an adult.
Now you’re vaccinated, and are at little to no risk of getting substantively sick from COVID, thank goodness we can put this whole pandemic thing behind us now… right?
VAXXED & MASKED… WAIT WHAT?
There is no exit strategy for mask policy in America. This is the scientific equivalent of the War in Iraq.
During the initial vaccine roll-out the motto was “Vaxxed OR Masked” for a short period of time, but we’ve quickly reverted, and now scientific consensus is building towards “Vaxxed AND Masked.” This illustrates the tunnel vision the scientific community has developed on COVID.
The focus of the scientific community has narrowed to such an extent that they are ready to expend apparently any amount of energy fighting towards a potentially unobtainable goal, zero COVID. In that vein they’ve stifled people’s ability to live life fully.
TERROR IN THE SKYS
I recently had to fly somewhere for the first time in the COVID era. I’d been watching the news like everyone else about the increase in the number of outbursts happening on flights. You watch some of those videos and think, “it’s not that big a deal, just wear the mask and calm down.”
4 hours into my flight, in a middle seat the size of a shoebox made from tinfoil and concrete, being physically sick to my stomach from breathing my own pretzel breath, trying to watch a movie through my fogging glasses it occurred to me… “I get it.”
More important than petty annoyance I realized I was reluctant to interact with those sitting next to me in any way. A comment, a conversation, anything. It was partially just a courtesy in case they were particularly concerned with trading air, but also because there is just an oppressive atmosphere of robotic coldness to a room full of covered faces.
To some introverts among us that may sound like a best-case scenario, but I’m of the opinion that it strips the humanity out of being around other humans.
I’ve traveled a lot in my lifetime, and some of my favorite memories are “single-serving friends.” Odd stories, weird people, individuals that you would simply never interact with in your everyday life. The start of those conversation isn’t the first words that are spoken, it’s usually a smile. My life has been richer for being able to see the invitation of a smile.
THE COST OF A MASK
There’s a value to being able to see the faces of those around you. So much of how we communicate is non-verbal, and taking facial expressions out of the equation is like removing one of our senses.
That is the cost of masking, an increased sense of isolation, of separation from the people around you.
It’s not how I’d like to live, and I know for certain there’s no way my kids were fully learning how interact in polite society when everyone around them had their face covered at school last year.
That’s what we're paying to invest in the goal of zero COVID. Is it worth it?
“Of course it’s worth it! People are dying!”
Almost nothing in the world functions well in the absolute. The list of things that we all do in our daily lives that incrementally contribute to the death of other living beings is long. Unless you’re on a small, self-sustaining plot of land, walk everywhere, and eat locally sourced vegan food exclusively, you’re incrementally a contributing factor in someone’s death right now.
However, we don’t frame things in those terms usually. The way we perceive things falls along a spectrum of acceptable to non-acceptable. Not all these spectrums are good, I’d like to shift the tolerances on a lot of cultural norms, but this is how our world works for better or worse.
Quick sidebar, but I’ll come back to this…
WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT THE UNVACCINATED?
As discussed above, those who are dying from COIVD in the US at this time are almost exclusively the unvaccinated. Being unvaccinated in the US today is a choice for all but extremely rare fringe cases.
I disagree with the premise that we CAN do anything about the unvaccinated.
It’s hard to argue that we know this vaccine is safe over the long term. It’s hard to argue that there are no side effects that manifest 10-20 years down the line. It’s hard to argue that the US Government has a great track record of altruism and transparency.
It’s hard to argue these things because they’re valid concerns. You have to let people make that call for themselves.
If they decide that they’re more comfortable with the additional risk of death due to COVID after all the information they’ve been bombarded with over the last year+, then I don’t know if there’s anything anyone is going to say to them that changes their.
Does that mean there’s a greater chance for a variant to develop, Yes. Does that mean that more people are going to stress test the limits of our medical infrastructure and personnel, Yes. Does that mean more people are going to die, Yes.
People are going to need to start absorbing that truth. Reluctance to get the vaccine is born of a distrust that has been ingrained over generations and isn’t going to be fixed overnight. The harder you push, the more pressure you apply, the further entrenched the people you’re trying to convince become.
When looking at COVID statistics during a decision-making process we should remove all figures related to the unvaccinated, because the truth of it is those people have opted out of the effort to stop this virus. They’re not playing “the floor is lava” with us, and we’re not going to get them to play.
SO, WHEN SHOULD WE STOP WEARING MASKS?
Dropping the masks will increase the risks associated to COVID, that’s a fact. The question is not if it increases the risks, the question is whether or not the increased risk stands at an acceptable rate vs. the cost of eliminating that risk (i.e. continuing to wear a mask).
Back to our “acceptable risk” spectrum…
If you drive a car you’re putting everyone around you at increased risk. Hurling a 3000lb machine down a highway under the power of controlled explosions, what are you insane? Instead, you could have woken up a few hours earlier and walked or ridden a bike, but you’re too self-absorbed by your need for comfort to think of others. Car accidents are one of the leading causes of death among a vulnerable and valuable group, teenagers. You’re a monster for driving a car.
^This example is ridiculous, but technically factual. Follow the science.
We don’t talk like this as a society about driving. Driving a car falls into the acceptable risk category on our spectrum. We all have agreed that we are ok putting those around us at increased risk by driving motor vehicles.
There are approx. 221.7M drivers in America, and in 2019 there were 36,120 people killed in automobile accidents. That means that in 2019 driving carried with it a 0.016% chance of death on aggregate.
“And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people.”
Again, there were approximately 1 Million confirmed COVID cases in May 2021. Out of the 1M only 150 died while fully vaccinated (0.015%).
Again, it’s also important to note that we’re talking about confirmed cases, which doesn’t count the number of people who got COVID and were asymptomatic, so they didn’t get tested, or those who were symptomatic but choose not to get a test.
The actual cases vs. vaccinated deaths % is likely well below that 0.015%, but we’re working with the numbers we have here.
That means using the inflated 0.015% chance of dying from COVID while fully vaccinated number, you’re more likely to die in a car accident (0.016%). If you’re vaccinated and are still afraid of this virus killing you, wait till I tell you about the death trap parked in your driveway.
The way we perceive the risk of death from COVID among vaccinated people needs to shift into the acceptable range on our collective spectrum. The war is over.
Those of us who have chosen to get vaccinated, who have opted into the fight against COVID, have won. If you are vaccinated you are not going to die from COVID, or at least the chances are on par with all the other risks involved in stepping out your front door in the morning.
Those who have decided not to get the vaccine, who have opted out of the fight, that’s their choice. Yes, their choice adds incremental risk to your life, but it’s marginal. People around you make choices every day that increase your personal risk, that’s the cost of living around other humans.
If you’re looking at the statistics for vaccinated people only, it’s abundantly clear that this pandemic is over, and we can take the masks off.
Stay Curious. Please Share.