The Corner

Politics & Policy

Will Biden Still Want Masked Americans Beyond His First 100 Days?

President Joe Biden replaces his face mask after speaking about the implementation of the American Rescue Plan at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 15, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

We’re coming up on Biden’s 100th day. A week ago, I observed that we were coming up on the threshold of when Biden said Americans would no longer need to wear masks as a precaution against COVID-19.

Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days,” Biden said in December, repeating the request to Americans, and the encouragement to governors and mayors to keep state and local mask requirements in place.

Biden’s 100th day in office is next Friday, April 30. Do you think he’ll say, “Okay, the 100 days are over. It’s okay to take your masks off now”? Or do you think he’ll backtrack and say Americans need to wear their masks for another period of time? Until Memorial Day? Until Independence Day? Until Labor Day?

Tomorrow, Biden is expected to “announce new CDC guidance on whether vaccinated people need to wear masks outdoors, though the final language of the expected announcement is still unclear.” I suspect Biden will interpret any loosening of the masking guidance as honoring his “just 100 days” pledge.

But there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that vaccinated people can interact with each other with minimal concern.

First, if you’re fully vaccinated, your immune system is as prepared as it can get to fight off this virus. And as I’ve been pointing out since the study came out, vaccinated people carry much smaller viral loads when they do get infected. This doesn’t make transmission impossible, but it makes it much rarer.

Second, outdoor transmission was pretty rare, even before people were vaccinated. The Journal of Infectious Diseases concluded earlier this year, “five studies related to SARS-CoV-2 transmission found that less than 10 percent of reported transmission occurred in outdoor settings, less than 5 percent of cases were related to outdoor occupations, and the odds of transmission or super-spreading are much lower outdoors.” Outdoor air currents are apparently enough to really disrupt the way this virus floats around when expelled from the nose or mouth.

Third, masks help, but they’re not the end-all and be-all that so many people seem to think they are. I’ve been pretty pro-mask throughout this pandemic, but keep in mind the “pro-mask” CDC study found that after 100 days of mask mandates, the daily COVID-19 death growth rate in mask-mandated counties was 1.9 percentage points lower than that of counties without mask mandates. That’s a difference, but not a gargantuan one.

And there’s no getting around the fact we’ve had some runaway mask hysteria in this country over the past year. When a Slate article declaring it is no longer necessary to wear masks outdoors spurs a response of, “You have blood on your hands. You should feel ashamed,” it is clear we’re dealing with something closer to superstitious hysteria, not scientific analysis.

Currently Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington require masks outdoors, usually with a provision that they are required when six feet of social distance is not possible. A few states require them even when social distanced outdoors.

Add it all up, and it doesn’t make much sense for vaccinated people to wear masks around each other – and it certainly doesn’t make sense for vaccinated people to wear masks around each other outdoors. Biden could say that tomorrow. Or he may make only the smallest and most begrudging moves towards an unmasked America.

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