May 20, 2021

The CDC changes mask guidelines.

The CDC changes mask guidelines.

Plus, a question about UFOs.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

The CDC’s new mask guidance. Plus, a question (and preview) on some UFO stories.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

UFOs are here.

It’s been a heavy week here. From abortion issues to the conflict in Gaza to police reform, we’ve been in the weeds on some of the most sensitive topics in America. So tomorrow, we’re going to have a little fun. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Unidentified Flying Objects are having a moment right now (we’re just calling them Unidentified Aeriel Phenomena, or UAPs). And a lot of it has to do with the government finally letting its guard down and acknowledging some things that they’ve long denied.

Tomorrow’s Friday edition is going to take a look at where things stand, what we know, what we don’t and what to expect. Remember: Friday editions are for subscribers only. If you want to receive it, you have to make the leap into the unknown by clicking the button below:

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Quick hits.

  1. The conflict in Israel continued yesterday, with Hamas and Israel exchanging airstrikes and rocket fire. Emerging reports of a potential cease-fire indicate the violence could stop before the weekend. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  2. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will stop detaining immigrants at two county jails amid a federal probe into the nation’s immigration jails. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  3. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that bans abortions in the state as early as six weeks into a pregnancy (The Washington Post, subscription) just hours before also signing a bill banning mask mandates for public schools. (Axios)
  4. The House of Representatives, including 35 of 211 Republicans, approved a commission to investigate the January 6 attack at the Capitol. (Reuters)
  5. Despite being in “exile,” former President Trump is still the primary driver of fundraising for Republicans in Congress and across the country. (Politico)

What D.C. is talking about.

Mask mandates. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its mask-wearing guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated (meaning two weeks out from their last required dose). The new rules allow those people to stop wearing masks outdoors, in crowds, and in most indoor settings.

The updated guidance still calls for vaccinated people to wear masks in specific indoor settings like busses, planes, and hospitals, but it allows social distancing to end in places like workplaces and schools.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there was some “confusion” about the guidelines.

“I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It's not,” Fauci told Axios. “It's an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.”

The announcement was met with both celebration and concern. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the reactions over the last week.

What the left is saying.

The left has largely questioned whether it’s happening too early — and also urged patience with those who aren’t quite ready to remove their masks.

“It might have been better to have kept up indoor mask mandates to help suppress the virus for maybe as little as a few more weeks,” Dr. Zeynep Tufekci wrote for The New York Times. “The C.D.C. could have set metrics to measure such progress, saying that guidelines would be maintained until the number of cases or the number of vaccinations reached a certain level, determined by epidemiologists. And they could be explicit about the data on transmission risks… The agency could say that the fully vaccinated need not worry about personal risk or transmitting the virus in a private setting. But rules for behavior in public still need to stay in place indoors to protect the unvaccinated and the immunocompromised, because we’re all in this together…

“In the early days of the pandemic it made sense for everyone to wear a mask, not just the sick — as the C.D.C. and the World Health Organization were recommending — if only to relieve the stigma of illness,” Tufekci said. “Now, as we head toward the endgame, we need to apply the same logic but in reverse: If the unvaccinated still need to wear masks indoors, everyone else needs to do so as well, until prevalence of the virus is more greatly reduced.”

Charles Blow celebrated the new announcement, but also warned about the long tail of COVID-19, especially for minority communities.

“I truly believe that we have failed to appreciate the national trauma that this pandemic has caused, much of which has been concentrated in already vulnerable communities: poor and working-class communities and Black and brown communities,” he wrote. “I also worry about racial disparities in Covid-19 infections and how this imbalance may become chronic… What will happen when the media attention fades, but the poverty and access issues don’t? Will this become another chronic disease in the Black community that the media largely ignores?

“I, as much as anyone, am looking forward to the moment that the country can get back to more of a pre-Covid-19 normal,” he concluded. “But I’m also conscious of the fact that others may not be returning to normal, and that the health and well-being of many Americans may be affected by this disease long after the country declares a victory.”

In a CNN op-ed, public health experts David Holtgrave and Eli Rosenberg said they will continue to wear their masks.

“Unfortunately, we are still not across the finish line in the US pandemic,” they wrote. “There is still a Covid-19 death about every 2.5 minutes in the nation, and serious racial and ethnic disparities exist (e.g., in disproportionate access to vaccination services). There are six major concerns about the decision to roll back some key safety measures when in fact we need all of the tools we have in the Covid-19 prevention toolbox for perhaps just a short time longer…

“First, the CDC failed to tell people who are vaccinated what risks they might face (for themselves or their community) if they remove their masks, especially being in crowded events with unvaccinated persons, some of whom may not be wearing masks… The CDC failed to provide support for people who are fully vaccinated and for a time may elect to wear a mask… It failed to detail further new initiatives to get unvaccinated persons vaccinated… There was a failure to describe how, in society, the public and venues are to know who is and who is not vaccinated… The public health message would have been much stronger if it had been tied to a specific milestone…The announcement seemingly does not heed the central lessons of disease elimination and eradication. Namely, to get across the finish line of getting cases and deaths to even lower levels, and getting more persons vaccinated, we need to accelerate our efforts using all tools at our disposal.”

What the right is saying.

The right has argued that this guidance is overdue and appropriate, given where we are with vaccines.

In the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Libertarian think tank, Joel Zinberg said the CDC was finally “doing the obvious.”

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now stated what has been clear to anyone following the scientific literature for the past few months: People who are two weeks past being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks indoors or outside, and need not maintain physical distance,” he wrote. “While the CDC once again invoked its mantra that it is ‘following the science,’ as recently as last night, CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky advised everyone to wear masks indoors, even if they were fully vaccinated. It is unclear what changed overnight. Most likely, it was nothing new, just the accumulated evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are over 90 percent effective in stopping viral transmission, even for the common variants, that convinced the hyper-cautious agency that vaccinated people are protected from infection and are unlikely to transmit the virus to others.

“Over a third of the total population has been fully vaccinated. More importantly, almost half of those 18 and older have been vaccinated and 72 percent of the most vulnerable—those 65 and older who account for more than 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths—have been vaccinated,” Zinberg added. “Eighty-four percent of the elderly have received at least one dose, which provides almost as much protection as the full two-dose regimen. Maybe the CDC is finally acknowledging what has been known for the past year: COVID-19 is a far less serious disease for those under 18, who account for less than 1/10th of 1 percent of deaths.”

In The National Review, Robert Verbruggen argued that it’s time to “end all COVID restrictions.”

“I supported the initial lockdowns, hoping they would buy us time to find other ways to keep the virus at bay,” Verbruggen said. “I then continued to support lighter, more-targeted restrictions later in the pandemic. But now that vaccines are widely available, it’s time to start ending all of that. Outside of very rare scenarios, such as when someone is allergic to the ingredients, vaccines turn vulnerability to COVID into a personal choice.

“We should not be imposing restrictions on Americans to protect those who’ve chosen to put themselves at risk — and who, disproportionately, oppose the restrictions just as much as they distrust the vaccines anyway,” he said. “We also should not impose restrictions in deference to the folks who have managed to become addicted to the thrill of being stricter than everyone else about COVID protocols, even long after they’ve been vaccinated… These vaccines are awesome. They provide nearly complete protection against the most severe cases. They block transmission, too. And yes, the vaccines are effective even against those dreaded ‘variants.’ Actual scientists need to monitor that last situation and update the vaccines as required, but no one else has anything to be worried about until something changes.”

In The Washington Post, Joseph Allen said the CDC critics had it wrong.

“The most beautiful aspect of the vaccines is that they help protect even those who aren’t vaccinated, or can’t get vaccinated, such as the immune-compromised and young kids,” he wrote. “The best evidence here is that cases among kids in Israel matched the drop in cases in adults, even though kids weren’t vaccinated…

“Top-down guidance offers no flexibility, as is needed at this point in the United States,” Allen added. “The CDC’s new update recognizes that decisions are rightly shifting to the local level and individual organizations. Some, such as Walmart and Starbucks, have chosen to relax mask requirements for vaccinated employees and customers. This doesn’t mean organizations are not allowed to require masks. The challenge, of course, is that there is no way to verify who has been vaccinated yet. For this reason, many places should still require masks indoors through July 4, as I wrote recently.

“In any event, the issue is not whether the CDC was right to relax guidelines. In doing so, the agency was following the science — which shows that those who are vaccinated are at low risk of contracting or spreading the virus,” he concluded. “The issue now is how companies and states respond.”

My take.

This edition comes at a coincidental time for me: today is exactly two weeks since I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. And I’ve got to say, I’m ready to shed the mask.

A few weeks ago, a week or two after getting my first dose, I told my partner I was going to stop wearing my mask outside. My argument was based on the numerous studies and articles out there explaining how rare outdoor transmission was, especially when you were simply walking down the street or past someone. Despite that, most people in New York still wear their masks on the sidewalk or in the park, which is a spectacle to me at this stage in the pandemic.

My fiancée, in her infinite wisdom, pushed back on me a bit. “Just be gentle with people,” she said, which was responsible and respectful advice. Her argument was, essentially, that it’s not so much about the science as it is about waiting for the rules to change so other people are comfortable in the same way that I am.

Now, the rules have changed.

Everything we know about vaccines is tremendously positive news. Indoors is trickier, but for a middle-aged or elderly person who is vaccinated, your risk (actually) is now not much different than it is for other common viruses. There have been some issues with vaccine access in poor and marginalized communities, but they seem to have improved significantly over the last few months and — based on what we’re hearing from clinics across the country — we’re already at a point where vaccine supply is outstripping demand. The issue isn’t access, it’s the 1 in 4 Americans who don’t want a vaccine.

There are caveats, of course: what about the three percent of the country that is immunocompromised and at risk no matter what they do? What about kids, who are also just beginning to get the vaccine? I’m sympathetic to the former. My own mom was fighting breast cancer during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. But little short of an indefinite lockdown or mask mandate is going to solve this issue, and there’s no precedent for keeping the country under a mask mandate to solve for that group, especially given that many will still get (and be protected by) vaccines. And for the latter, we’ve known for many months that COVID “looks much more like the kind of risk that society has long tolerated, without upending daily life,” as New York Times columnist David Leonhardt put it.

In my own personal life, I’ve witnessed a certain attachment to the trauma of COVID-19: the masking, the rule changes, the obsessive cleaning, the refreshing of death counters, the avoidance of social situations. We’re at a point now where it’s not just necessary for new guidance, but we need the CDC to nudge people forward. The agency has been exceptionally cautious this whole time, and rightly so, but everything we know about the vaccines, and the decreasing coronavirus case count, indicates it’s time to flip the page. At the absolute bare minimum, it’s no longer reasonable to be enforcing mask mandates — and nothing is stopping those who want to continue masking up from doing so (I won’t judge a soul).

For now, this moment should be a celebration, not one of consternation. We’ve waited, we’ve gotten extraordinarily lucky, and we are ready for the “return to normal” as the summer kicks off.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Last year in Trump’s COVID-19 bill, Marco Rubio slipped in a provision that requires the DNI and SecDef to come clean on any and all “aerial threats” (aka UFOs) to Congress. The provision had a deadline and that deadline is next month: June 2021. Do you think these disclosures will be made public? What is your prediction for what, if anything, might come out publicly and how will that disclosure be handled?

— Billy, New York, New York

Tangle: I’ve joked in this newsletter often about how UFOs are a bit of a pet passion for me, and I’m even kicking around the idea of a separate newsletter or podcast on them (more on that tomorrow). As I said, though, UFOs are having their moment right now — but it’s been a long time coming.

My read on the situation is that the stigma of saying they are here is slipping away. It is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our government and members of the armed forces are seeing things in the sky (or plunging into the sea) that they cannot explain. Since Rubio slipped that provision in, disclosures have already begun leaking in the form of videos and photographs. Columnists are writing openly about what they reveal, and members of our security and intelligence apparatus continue to share info as well.

Perhaps most encouraging, in March, former intelligence director John Ratcliffe said the disclosure will be big. “Frankly, there are a lot more sightings than have been made public,” Ratcliffe told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo at the time. He even indicated the report will document sightings from “all over the world,” not just in America.

So, for me, that’s the good news. The bad news: agencies are very good at missing deadlines like this, and the language was not included in the part of the bill that makes law — instead, it was included in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the bill. In simple terms, that means it isn’t statute, but typically these agencies treat report language as law. Will they this time? We can only hope.

Want to ask a question? Just reply to this email and write in. Or, if you want, you can fill out this form.

Your blindspot.

Tangle has very few partners because we are very careful about who we work with. And one of them is Ground News, an exceptional app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting. I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what you were likely to miss based on your political leanings and the news feed bubble you’ve created for yourself.

If you’re on the left, you probably missed videos of the Iron Dome shooting down rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.

If you’re on the right, you probably missed a story about Democrats reversing course after briefly considering a delay in arms sales to Israel.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

A story that matters.

An online lending platform that processed nearly 300,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans gave away at least 378 loans totaling $7 million to fake business entities. A new report from ProPublica, which dug into the platform, Kabbage, revealed how some of the government-funded subsidies went to businesses that simply didn’t exist. “The overwhelming majority of them are categorized as farms, even in the unlikeliest of locales, from potato fields in Palm Beach to orange groves in Minnesota,” ProPublica reported. It’s the latest piece of news that sheds light on how PPP loans were doled out and, in some cases, given out in error to scammers. (ProPublica)


  • 7.8%. The percentage of Hispanic voters in the 2020 election, according to Target Insights.
  • 8.3%. The percentage of African-American voters in the 2020 election, according to Target Insights.
  • 27.6%. The percentage of 50 to 64-year-old voters in the 2020 election.
  • 30.1%. The percentage of 50 to 64-year-old voters in the 2016 election.
  • 13.8%. The percentage of 18 to 29-year-old voters in the 2020 election.
  • 42,185,140. The number of early and absentee votes cast by Republicans in the 2020 election.
  • 48,511,741. The number of early and absentee votes cast by Democrats in the 2020 election.

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Have a nice day.

A new treatment for PTSD that uses MDMA, one of the ingredients in ecstacy, is showing very promising results. The drug alleviated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a phase 3 trial when paired with talk therapy, according to a report published in Science Magazine. “Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo,” The New York Times reported. “Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group.”

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