The risk calculation has changed with Covid; reverting to early-pandemic responses won’t help the U.S. get vaccinated.
Just when we thought we were almost done, Covid-19 cases are surging. The world may have one of the most effective vaccines ever developed, but not everyone is taking it and so we remain susceptible to the delta variant. Not surprisingly, this has renewed calls to bring back a response that makes some feel safe and under control: mask mandates. And not just for the unvaccinated; Los Angeles, St. Louis and Savannah, Georgia, are again requiring everyone to wear masks indoors. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is toughening its mask guidance, too, which will provide cover for other local governments to issue mandates.
This is a mistake. The existence of the vaccine means we’re facing a different risk problem than we did a year ago, or even several months ago. Normally, governments leave most risk-taking decisions to individuals. But the nature of a novel pandemic means we don’t know the extent of what we were facing, and one person’s risk calculation will affect others. Before we had a vaccine, this uncertainty justified extreme policies such as shutdowns and mask mandates to prevent every infection we could.
Allison Schrager is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.
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