The return of mask mandates.

Plus, the raffle winners.
Isaac Saul Jul 26, 2021
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: 12 minutes.

The raffle winners, a return to mask mandates, and a question about Joe Biden running in 2024.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Congrats!

Three winners of the Tangle raffle have been notified: Eloise, Ryan and Kayden. Eloise from Sun City Center, Florida, was the only one to reply so far, and asked that her $100 be donated to the Hearing Loss Association of America Sun City Center Chapter (You can find the national organization here). Thank you all for participating and spreading the word about Tangle. It’s a huge help, and we’ll continue to do raffles and subscription drives in the future!


Quick hits

  1. Senate negotiators are finalizing a plan to pay for a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure package. (CBS News)
  2. The Biden administration is expected to recommend a booster shot for some vaccinated Americans. (Axios)
  3. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former press secretary for Donald Trump, published an op-ed urging Arkansas residents to get the vaccine. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)
  4. Civilian deaths and injuries have surged in Afghanistan, according to a United Nations report. (Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  5. Details on the FBI investigation into Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh have drawn sharp criticism from Democrats. (The New York Times, subscription)
  6. BONUS: Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) has agreed to join the Jan. 6 commission on the Capitol riots at Speaker Pelosi’s request. (Chicago Tribune)

What D.C. is talking about

Mask mandates. Last week, Los Angeles County became the first major metropolitan area to reinstate its indoor mask mandate. St. Louis now requires masking as well. In both cities, masks are required indoors even for people who are fully vaccinated. Similar reinstatements are being debated locally around the country, including in San Francisco and Manhattan. Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that bringing a national mask mandate back was under “active consideration” in the Biden administration and that he was part of those conversations, but did not say whether he believed it was a good idea.

Officials in both Los Angeles and Missouri said the new mask mandates, which go into effect on Monday and will apply on public transportation and in all indoor places, are designed to stem the spread of the delta variant, a more contagious mutation of Covid-19. The daily average of new cases is up 170% over the last 14 days, with an average of 51,939 new cases reported over the last week. That’s the highest 7-day average since the end of April.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended last week that all students above the age of two wear masks when returning to school this fall, regardless of vaccination status (this contradicts a CDC recommendation).

The comments from Fauci, along with the announcement from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the new rules in Los Angeles and St. Louis, have reignited a national debate about the necessity and wisdom of mask mandates. Below, we’ll take a look at some perspectives from the left and right, and then my take.


What the left is saying.

The left is split on the issue, though many are in favor of reinstituting mask mandates in certain areas until the Delta variant is under control.

In The Los Angeles Times, Peter K. Enns and Jake Rothschild said “face mask mandates for all should be back on the table.”

“Our research shows why the answer is yes in many places: The unvaccinated are least likely to wear masks,” they said. “We could avoid mask mandates if everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated. Nearly half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and almost 70% of adults (and nearly 90% of those 65 and up) have received at least one dose. But these vaccination rates vary substantially by county. Federal and local governments must continue to find creative ways to encourage — or require — vaccination. France recently introduced new vaccination requirements, and despite some controversy, a rush for vaccines ensued.

“Until vaccination rates increase, it might seem that the simplest solution is to require those who are unvaccinated to wear masks, and several states have adopted this policy,” they said. “Masks not only help prevent those infected from spreading the virus, they also offer protection to those wearing the mask. But that bifurcated approach doesn’t work well if unvaccinated individuals are unlikely to follow mask requirements when the vaccinated no longer need to wear masks. The unvaccinated are also the least concerned about the Delta variant.”

Karolina Corin says the CDC “urgently needs to reinstate mask recommendations for everyone.”

“Without clear, uniform guidance from the top, patchwork implementation of masking across the U.S. will leave many, if not most, children vulnerable,” she wrote. “And they are highly vulnerable. Since the beginning of the pandemic, news reports have emphasized that older adults are at the highest risk of death and serious illness, and that children are spared the worst effects of COVID-19. This is true. It’s also true that nearly 500 children have died, 150,000 to 240,000 have likely been hospitalized, and more than 4,000 have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome. At the same time, only one child has died of the flu. Based on these measures, COVID-19 is more than 400 times more deadly than the flu and is one of the leading causes of death or hospitalization in children.

“Yet even these numbers don’t touch upon the long-term devastation that COVID-19 may cause,” she wrote. “Like adults, children can develop long-haul COVID, with studies reporting between 2% and 42% of patients suffering lasting effects. Even the lowest predictions around 2% (or 1 in 50) are unacceptably high, and the true rates are likely higher. Indeed, the British National Health Service is reporting numbers of 7% to 8% and is opening 15 pediatric clinics for long-haul COVID across the U.K. We may see a similar need for such clinics if the CDC doesn’t change its stance.”

In The Atlantic, Olga Khazan wrote that depending on where you live and your risk tolerance, vaccinated people are justified in either masking or unmasking.

“If you live in an area with a lot of cases, some experts say, it might be worth wearing a mask indoors, even if you’re vaccinated. This is especially true in situations where you don’t know the vaccination status of everyone around you, such as at church or a concert… Though your heart might not break for your local anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, 2 to 4 percent of American adults are immunocompromised, which means the COVID-19 vaccines do not work as well for them. By masking, you are protecting yourself from breakthrough infections, but also protecting kids and the immunocompromised.

On the other hand, “if you’re vaccinated, you technically don’t have to,” she wrote. “‘I agree with what the CDC says: If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask,’ says Joseph Allen, an environmental epidemiologist at Harvard. Indoor masking may be reasonable in areas with large outbreaks, but a top-down mask mandate for all of America no longer makes sense, he says. Allen worries that encouraging vaccinated people to keep masking undermines confidence in the vaccines. You can’t claim you ‘believe in science’ unless you also believe in the science of vaccine efficacy. Mask-free living can also be a carrot: Look, if you get vaccinated, you can lose these things once and for all!”


What the right is saying.

The right opposes the mask mandates, saying the costs are too high and they won’t work anyway.

In The New York Post, Karol Markowicz said “read my lips: we’re not going back to masks and lockdowns again.”

“The move is absurd in several ways,” she wrote. “For starters, it throws shade on the vaccines. If vaccination works, why do the vaccinated need to be masked? And if we do still need to be masked post-vaccine, why would anyone take the jabs? The vaccinated are protected, and the unvaccinated have had enough time to get vaccinated. We have to move on. But beyond that, there’s the added question of whether mask mandates have made any difference in containing COVID.

“In March, when Texas and Mississippi dropped their mask mandates, President Joe Biden criticized the moves as ‘neanderthal thinking’ and said it was too soon to stop wearing masks. The blue-check media predicted a COVID holocaust in these states. That didn’t happen,” she wrote. “Case numbers collapsed in the months after the mandates ended. In May 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that a ‘shocking’ 66 percent of those hospitalized for COVID had contracted it in their homes… That didn’t change when lockdowns were eased… It wasn’t passing by someone on the street. It wasn’t shopping or exercising or going to school. It was generally close contact inside homes that continued to spread COVID. Bringing back masks in the low-risk situations will do exactly nothing to stop COVID from spreading in situations such as gatherings with family and friends.”

In The New York Times, Bethany Mandel said to “forget mask mandates” because vaccines are “the only answer.”

“Statistically, almost the only people getting sick enough to be hospitalized at this point are those who have yet to choose vaccination,” she wrote. “They have chosen to accept the risk that decision brings and yet, with the threat of more lockdowns, we would all have to bear the cost. We know what works in our battle against Covid: vaccines. We tried lockdowns, we tried mask mandates, but numbers only started to drop to endemic levels in some areas when vaccination became mainstream. Our society incentivized vaccination as a condition of a return to normalcy, and millions of Americans signed onto this social contract. We need increased vaccination rates in order to keep Covid at bay, and reneging on the agreement to return to normalcy with the ready availability and acceptance of vaccination would have the opposite effect.

“And let’s be truly honest about the crushing social and economic costs that lockdowns bring,” she said. “We not only know more about Covid than we did in the spring of 2020, and we also know just how catastrophic lockdowns are as well. From the devastating mental health toll on teenagers, to the record number of drug overdoses following a time of isolation and stress and the fact that an estimated 200,000 small businesses didn’t survive. Further, while we keep hearing that the Delta variant is raging, here and around the world, it’s important to keep some perspective in mind about where we are and where we’ve been: In January, we saw an average of 200,000 new cases per day; now we’re seeing a fraction of those peak numbers.”

In The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria said “the media panic over the delta variant” is driving Biden “back into the arms of clearly unnecessary mask mandates.”

“The rejection of science and rationality is most prominent in the administration’s stance on schools,” Faria said. “Biden said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is going to advise that children under the age of 12 wear masks during school. This is compounded by Dr. Anthony Fauci's support for mask mandates for children over the age of 2 and White House press secretary Jen Psaki saying it's ‘greatly concerning’ that Florida is not going to require children to wear masks in schools.

“Of course, Florida is once again correct, and Biden’s administration is wrong,” he wrote. “Out of roughly 73 million children in the United States, 335 have died from the virus. Between 0%-0.03% of child virus cases result in death. The CDC estimated that more than nearly twice as many children died of the flu during the 2017-18 flu season than have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. For some perspective, the 2009 H1N1 flu, known as the ‘swine flu,’ had a higher death rate among children than COVID-19 does. The risk of COVID-19 to children is incredibly low. There is no scientific justification to force them to wear masks for in-person schooling for seven hours a day, five days a week.”


My take.

This conversation requires a certain amount of nuance, so I’m going to try to make my overarching argument as specific and plain as possible: National mask mandates are a horrible idea. Local mask mandates may be necessary. Forcing vaccinated people to mask up both removes an incentive to get vaccinated and ignores an overwhelming body of evidence that vaccinated people are not getting seriously ill, and just as importantly, seem very unlikely to be spreading Covid-19. But there are reasonable arguments to institute indoor mask mandates in places with very high infection rates in order to protect certain vulnerable groups.

At the start, I’ll say that insisting that vaccinated people mask up again just seems self-defeating to me. It’s a bad idea, not because masks don’t work — a lot of them do, if they’re worn properly and are effective masks (which is a whole other convo). The issue is more that people don’t wear them properly (or don’t wear an effective mask) and that people are going to reject the mandates outright. Just look at Southern California, where local leaders are demanding health officials resign, threatening to cut ties from their own public health departments and tearing local communities apart. And that’s in an area with a lot of political cohesion and alignment — and a lot of people who have supported and complied with previous mandates.

One of the best arguments for instituting these mandates in areas with a resurgence of Covid-19 is to protect children and the immunocompromised. But I’m not at all sold that the risk to children meets the bar for such a policy. 274 children died of “chronic lower respiratory disease” in the U.S. in 2018. The highest-end estimate for Covid-19 deaths among children is about 500, though the official tally is 335. The CDC estimates that 600 kids died of the flu during the 2017-2018 season. But recent studies, including the latest in England, indicate that — unlike deaths in adults — we could be overcounting Covid-19 deaths in children. 99.995% of the 469,982 kids in England who got Covid-19 survived. Of the 61 deaths linked to a positive Covid-19 test, the study found only 25 were actually caused by the illness. Furthermore, of those 25 children, 15 had underlying serious illnesses. Study after study has shown kids’ risk of serious Covid-19 illness is extremely low.

Addressing immunocompromised Americans is much tougher. Many can take the vaccine, but won’t be as well protected by it as those without underlying issues. You should be especially conscious of this if you have a friend or family member who is immunocompromised. But, again, it’s basically unprecedented for us to institute sweeping health policies like a national mask mandate in order to protect two percent of the population. I know that’s a cold-hearted analysis in many ways, but mask mandates and social distancing rules have serious costs we need to consider as well. If we’re talking about this at a hyper-local level, high rates of infection could be a cause for indoor mask mandates — but the bar should be set pretty high.

This is not to say breakthrough cases aren’t happening. They are. It’s clear the Delta variant is spreading rapidly. In my friend group alone, I’ve now heard of four different people who have gotten infected despite being fully inoculated (with all three of the major U.S. vaccines represented: J&J, Pfizer and Moderna). But none have had to be hospitalized, which is, to me, the greatest individual benefit of vaccination.

But we always knew breakthrough cases were going to come, and that variants would always be an issue. It’s how viruses evolve. This is all the more reason to go get one of the vaccines. Hundreds of millions of people have taken them and they are very obviously reducing infections, deaths, hospitalizations and are overwhelmingly safe (you should still consult your doctor). You don’t have to be politically aligned in any way to see these obvious points. Everyone from Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Whoopi Goldberg is begging people to get vaccinated. And the longer we don’t, the more likely we’ll see the rise of new variants down the road.

At the same time, I’m also angry. I hate masks. I hate wearing them, I hate how they look, I hate what they do to us socially, I hate the fact that many face coverings are pointless and ineffective, and I am angry that we are even having this debate, almost entirely because of the 30 percent of the country who won’t get vaccinated.

If the virus continues to surge in New York City, I’ll follow local guidelines about mask-wearing — and I suggest you do the same in your community. But a national mask mandate is not necessary and wouldn’t be effective right now, and the Biden administration would be making a huge mistake by pursuing one. The way out is, and continues to be, vaccinating as many people as possible.


Your questions, answered.

Q: At this moment, what are the odds that Joe Biden is going to run for a second term? I feel like it’s a very important question that will need to be answered sooner than later, and currently is an elephant in the room for Democrats.

— Alex, Brooklyn, NY

Tangle: My read is that the odds are quite low. Despite the fact he says he’ll run in 2024, he has also described himself as a bridge to the next generation of the party. I think he has always been viewed by the Democratic party (and at times, even by himself) as a Trump-stopper more than a two-term president.

The case for him leaving: he’s already older than Reagan was after he finished his second term. Questions about his age and mental acuity are persistent, and if history is any indication the presidency is going to wear him down quickly (as it has almost all of his predecessors). Rather than saying he’s going to run again, he’s said “the expectation” is he’ll run again, which… is a pretty mushy response. Finally, there’s a good chance Democrats are going to lose the House in the midterms, which means the second half of his first term could be nothing but Republican obstructionism. Would he come back for more of the same?

The case for him staying: historically, it’s basically unheard of not to. Via Ed Kilgore:

Only three presidents before him have chosen not to run for reelection after a full single term: James K. Polk, James Buchanan, and Rutherford B. Hayes. Polk and Hayes ran for their first terms on a no-second-term pledge, which they kept. Buchanan announced a one-term-only policy in his Inaugural Address. Biden is not under any such self-imposed constraint. If he walks away, it will likely be under his own power.

On top of just being historically unlikely, Biden leaving also relies on a few other things. First, there would need to be a legit replacement candidate — someone he could endorse and trust to defeat a Trump rerun or a candidate like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. I’m not sure who that is. It’s not Vice President Kamala Harris, who could barely get traction in the Democratic primary and continues to lag behind Biden in popularity polls.

Also, if Democrats do manage to defend the House, or pick up seats in the Senate, that could be an incentive for Biden to stick around if his health holds up.

But if you’re looking for a clear answer right now, it really doesn’t exist. So much depends on what he gets done, how his health is, who controls Congress, what other Democratic candidates are viable and who is running on the Republican ticket.


A story that matters.

Across the country, GOP lawmakers are trying to scale back the power of local health officials. Lawmakers are making the case to constituents that individual freedoms should have greater weight than disease mitigation strategies, and legislative attempts to limit those mitigation methods are now becoming more common. New state laws are being proposed that would prevent states from being allowed to close businesses, allow lawmakers to rescind health department mandates, and rein in the emergency and regulatory power some governors have used against Covid-19. At least 15 states have passed or are considering measures to limit the legal authority of state health agencies. (The Washington Post)


Numbers.

  • 63%. The percentage of Americans who say China should have to pay pandemic reparations.
  • 41%. The share of adults in America who say they are very concerned about Covid-19, a four point uptick since last week, according to Morning Consult.
  • 12%. The share of Republicans who say that Covid-19 is a severe health risk in their local community.
  • 30%. The share of Democrats who say that Covid-19 is a severe health risk in their local community.
  • +15. President Biden’s net approval rating on his handling of Covid-19.
  • +23. President Biden’s net approval rating on his handling of Covid-19 last week.

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Have a nice day.

Surgeons at Duke University have successfully implanted a new generation of artificial heart — a first for any hospital in North America. The heart was developed by a French company and has been approved for use and sale in Europe. The patient, a 39-year-old man named Matthew Moore who had sudden heart failure in June, had just adopted a two-year-old foster son and arrived expecting to undergo heart bypass surgery. His condition deteriorated so rapidly that options like a transplant became too risky. Instead, doctors opted for the implant, and Moore is now recovering in the hospital. (CBS17)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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