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COVID Mandates in the Post-Vaccine Era
Earlier this week, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana was asked to weigh in on the decision of Florida Governor (and fellow Republican) Ron DeSantis to issue a state-wide order effectively banning school districts from mandating masks in classrooms as students begin their Fall semester.
"I'm a conservative. I think you govern best when you govern closest to the people being governed," said Cassidy. "And if a local community is having - their ICU is full, and the people at the local schools see that they've got to make sure they stay open, because otherwise children miss out for another year of school, and they put in policy, then the local officials should be listened to. That is a conservative principle."
When asked specifically if he disagrees with DeSantis, Cassidy (who’s a doctor) said that he did.
“The local officials should have control here," he added. "I don't want top-down from Washington, DC. I don't want top-down from a governor's office. ... If my hospitals are full, vaccination rate is low and infection rate is going crazy, local officials should be allowed to make those decisions."
DeSantis has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism throughout the pandemic, and I think a lot of it has been unfair and transparently political. And like DeSantis, I’m personally not in favor of mask mandates at this point. Multiple highly effective vaccines (which provide much better protection than masks) have been widely available in this country for months, and my entire family (which includes two high school students) has been fully vaccinated. I believe my kids are adequately protected, and I don't want them to have to wear masks in the classroom again. Parents of kids who haven't been vaccinated (in some cases because they're not old enough yet) may feel pretty comfortable as well, being that children fare far better with the COVID-19 infection than adults.
That said, I also think Cassidy was absolutely right. It’s one thing for a governor to refrain from issuing select state-wide mandates during a health crisis. It’s another to legally forbid local governments within that state from deciding otherwise based on what’s happening in their own communities.
Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, now seems to agree. Back in April, he signed into law a measure that banned local officials from implementing mask mandates. Four months later, after low vaccination rates and COVID-19 cases surging throughout his state, he expressed regret, saying last week, “I wish that had not become law.”
Of course, some people still argue that masks don't work because they're not a fail-safe method for stopping the transmission of COVID-19, and thus there's no point in mandating them. But knocking the virus on its butt was never the point of masks. That's what the vaccines are for. Mask-wearing helps mitigate the virus — to lower community infection. And in communities where the infection and hospitalization rates have skyrocketed, because the Delta variant is exceptionally contagious and a lot of people have chosen not to get vaccinated, masks can serve as a valuable interim tool.
Anyway, back to DeSantis. It’s not just school districts that the governor has gone after on the issue of health mandates. He also championed a state law that banned private companies from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination from their patrons. Again, this type of thing runs counter to conservatism and limited government… At least it did when the story was a cake maker in my home state of Colorado a few years back.
The Florida law has been especially hard on the cruise industry, which operates heavily out of Miami. Some cruise lines, including Norwegian, want to tamp down consumer safety concerns by requiring everyone aboard their vessels to be vaccinated.
It’s not an unreasonable precondition. The industry, after all, was one of the earliest casualties of the pandemic. Cruise lines have long battled the “floating Petri dishes” stigma, but COVID-19 absolutely ravaged their operations and means of revenue. It was going to be a very difficult recovery no matter what, but the law makes things far worse.
I’d ask everyone to imagine the horrific press that would come from having COVID-19 outbreaks aboard ships that are unable to dock for days, but we don’t have to imagine it. We all still remember what happened in early March of 2020, when passengers aboard the Grand Princess were among this country's first documented cases of the virus. It was a nightmare scenario, and similarly bad stories aboard other cruise ships were soon to follow.
While requiring vaccinations wouldn’t totally eliminate the possibility of this happening again, the odds would be very much against it. Most consumers get that.
But DeSantis seems hell bent on forcing the cruise lines to operate at a needlessly elevated risk, even after Norwegian beat Florida's law in federal court last Sunday. The governor is vowing to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, hospitalizations and deaths from the Delta wave are surging in his state... overwhelmingly among unvaccinated individuals.
It’s not just in Florida, of course, as National Review’s Jim Geraghty pointed out in a piece yesterday:
“In the last two weeks, the average number of new COVID-19 infections per day across the United States increased 86 percent, to 118,067. That, by itself, is not a crisis; many of the infected remain asymptomatic, including the breakthrough infections of the vaccinated. But the average number of hospitalized patients per day has increased 85 percent, to 66,429 people, and that is worrisome — as well as the fact that the average daily number of new COVID-19 deaths has doubled in the past two weeks, to 608… The severity of the pandemic varies significantly from state to state, but the reports of hospitals nearing or reaching capacity are starting to pile up.”
Looking at the big picture, the most frustrating thing — from the debates over mask and vaccine mandates, to talk of more lock-downs, to implications for businesses and education, to shouting matches at school board meetings, to the human suffering of those infected — is that it's being driven almost entirely, at this point, by one thing: a significant portion of the country consciously choosing not to get vaccinated.
That's the problem.
If we could get our act together as a nation (the recent uptick in vaccination rates is encouraging), and collectively stomp this virus to the smoulder it should have already been reduced to, most (if not all) of these other issues would lose wind and fall by the wayside.
Sean Coleman is back in my upcoming thriller novel, “Restitution.” Click here to pre-order.