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Littwin: New mask guidelines are welcome — until you see we must rely on the honor system. Is that really science?

Here’s how that will likely work in America in 2021: Many of those who don’t need to wear masks any more will keep wearing them and many who do need to wear masks still won’t.

It seems pretty obvious why the CDC suddenly issued its recent guidance that those of us who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks in most cases and in most places.

It’s also pretty obvious why many of the mask-wearers aren’t ready to shed their masks or begin to prepare their V-C (Victory over COVID) celebrations.

The new guidelines have presumably been put in place to help persuade those who are, uh, vaccine hesitant — a phrase I hope to never hear again once this pandemic is actually over — to get their shots. It’s supposed to be a perk, like the lotteries some states have put in place. The hope is that people will see getting the shots as their own personal get-yourself-out-of-mask-jail-free card.

Mike Littwin

And how will this gamble work? How will we know who among the unmasked are, in fact, fully vaccinated?

You already know the answer. And it’s not vaccine passports because, well, vaccine passports are apparently un-American.

Instead, we’re supposed to rely on the honor system, which is either strangely naive on the part of actual scientists or pretty desperate.

The honor system? In America? In the same country that saw 70 million people vote for the lyingest president — the Washington Post, which kept track, caught Trump in more than 30,000 lies — in our nation’s not altogether truthful history?

In a country where the Senate is unlikely to vote in favor of a Jan. 6 truth commission because one major party in this country — the one which may include many of the non-maskers and non-vacciners — can’t handle the truth?

I went to a college that had a famed, one-strike-and-you’re-out honor system. It was at the time — a long time ago — an all-male school. And when we gathered in the old gym for freshman orientation, we were told that lying would get us kicked out of school immediately — except, of course, if the untruthfulness came in a romantic situation. After all, who would expect anyone to be honest when, as the song went, you were barely 17 and you were barely dressed?

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Everyone knows the honor system won’t work. I have to believe that if fully vaccinated people not wearing masks were seen at real risk with this guidance, no one would have suggested it.

I’m not wearing a mask outside any longer. I don’t wear a mask inside among those I know are fully vaccinated. I’m confident in the science that I won’t get the virus and if, by remote chance I do, that it won’t be life-threatening. But life is still filled with contradictions. For example, I have to wear a mask when I pick up the grandkid from school. I have to wear a mask to enter my coffee shop/office. I have to wear a mask at my pharmacy. It’s recommended that I wear a mask at my grocery store.

The reason I have to wear a mask anywhere is because so many people have refused to be vaccinated, and so, we’re told, we’re never going to reach that holy grail of herd immunity. Still, the news is good. There’s a Friday piece in the New York Times saying that not only is the virus, at least in the United States, in steady decline — we know that; we can read the numbers — but that it may well be in permanent retreat. And that’s without reaching herd immunity. That is fabulous news. But we’re told the greatest risk of a resurgence is in those states with the lowest vaccination rates, most of them red states, most of them in the South.

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But back to the honor system. Do you trust your neighbor? Do you even know your neighbor’s name? This is 2021, when faith in so many once-trusted institutions is at an all-time low.

How about your congressperson? All three Colorado House Republicans voted against the Jan. 6 commission, even Ken Buck, who had just put himself out there by backing Liz Cheney and by warning that Republicans will suffer if they keep following Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was rigged. Buck must have felt that he had done his part.

In the U.S. House, mask wearing is still mandatory. That’s Nancy Pelosi’s decision, which she has made, she said, because many members aren’t vaccinated. According to one count, all the Democrats in the House say they have been vaccinated and more than half the Republicans in the House say they haven’t. Guess which group is more likely to wear masks, even now?


And it goes without saying that Lauren Boebert is one of the Republicans facing a possible fine for going maskless and who said, in a recent TV interview on a right-wing network, that she enjoys “telling Speaker Pelosi to, ‘Kiss my mask.’”

In that same interview on Real America’s Voice network — that’s what they call it — Boebert explained why she believes wearing a mask is pointless and that while Democrats insist on telling everyone else to follow the science, they refuse to do so themselves. And we saw the results, Boebert said: “Two weeks to slow the spread turned into communism really, really quickly.”

That’s classic Boebert, but don’t worry, she easily topped it.

“Texas removed their mask mandate two months ago, and Sleepy Joe called it ‘Neanderthal thinking,’” she said. “No, sir. Republicans are just following the science, and since removing the mask mandate two months ago, Texas has not reported a single COVID death. Not one.”

Right Wing Watch, an organization that takes it upon itself to fact-check people like Boebert, noted that she was just slightly off. It seems that instead of zero COVID deaths in Texas in those two months, there have been more than 3,400, which is, according to my calculations, a lot more than zero. I don’t know whether Boebert has a math problem or a truth problem or both, but I’m pretty sure in any case that I’m not going to give her the benefit of the doubt.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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