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Littwin: As I take my mask out of storage, I have many COVID-related questions. Like, why do so many ignore the best answers?

If you trust the science — and that’s the problem; so many don’t — you know you must get vaccinated and now wear masks where advised. But even science still gets stuff wrong. Biology, we’re told, is messy.

Things I ask myself as I sit in my formerly mask-free coffee shop/office, which has responded to the new CDC regulations by going back to the bad old days and hanging a “mask-up” sign on the door ….

Why is it so hard to understand that the spread of the delta variant — now seen as contagious as chicken pox, as transmissible as the common cold — means the expected summer of love, or at least the summer of indiscriminate hugs, is now lost to us? A new CDC report says health and policy officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.” 

Does this make sense? Among the changes that require new thinking is the discovery — you see, scientific knowledge and viruses can both mutate — that even the vaccinated can still contract the delta virus and, worse, apparently pass along a heavy viral load to the many unvaccinated. Most of those recently affected in a massive outbreak in Cape Cod were already vaccinated. That was the game changer on masks. So why get vaccinated? Most of those affected who were vaccinated had no symptoms. Only seven had to be hospitalized and none died. The unvaccinated, of course, don’t have the protection afforded by the vaccine and are, therefore, in much greater danger of being hospitalized or dying. 

Mike Littwin

If the war analogy is correct — and it’s least as correct as, say, the war on drugs or the war on poverty — why have so many Americans failed to enlist in this one, where the weapons of mass destruction are right in front of our faces, masked or otherwise?

While we know viruses aren’t cruel — they just do what viruses do — isn’t it true that the feared mutations of the coronavirus have hit us so hard  because so many people are unvaccinated? And if the virus isn’t cruel, the irony that those most loudly calling for a return to normalcy are often the ones blocking that return is, at minimum, a cruel irony. You can discuss among yourselves why irony is most often cruel. Philip Bump of the Washington Post offers the motorcycle helmet analogy. Many motorcyclists want freedom from wearing helmets, even as the death toll soars among helmet-free riders. Of course, the difference, as Bump points out, is that not wearing a helmet doesn’t put anyone else’s head at risk.

Speaking of risk, why have so many European countries, which were once well behind the United States in vaccinating its people, now moved ahead of us? Don’t they understand about microchips there? Is it because they hate Donald Trump? 

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Did anyone notice that when French President Emmanuel Macron said all health care workers needed to be vaccinated and that there would soon be vaccine passports required for restaurants, bars and theaters, thousands took to the streets to protest while millions of the vaccine-hesitant suddenly signed up for the vaccine? 

Is there anything more likely than the Trumpists calling out Joe Biden for mandating a vaccine for federal employees even though he didn’t? What Biden did was a workaround. He said federal employees and onsite contractors must be vaccinated or — and please note the or — be required to wear masks and get tested regularly. You can either be vaccinated and be less likely to infect your fellow workers or have to prove that you’re not infected. Biden is hoping that state governments and companies follow his lead.

How would that plan look to Jared Polis, the non-mandate guy who has been saying he had no plan to mandate masks or anything else? Let’s just say he followed Biden’s lead. On the same day Biden announced his workaround plan, Polis announced that 30,000 state employees must either be vaccinated or take twice-weekly COVID tests and also wear masks. This makes perfect sense, of course, although I doubt Polis would have made the order if Biden hadn’t. Let’s hope businesses make the same deal with their employees. Meanwhile, many Colorado hospitals are finally requiring vaccines for their workers. And Polis, who may be anti-mandate, is still very much pro-vaccine. In fact, we’re now seeing many Republican governors promoting the vaccine as the pandemic is now hitting red states hardest.

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Could anyone not notice how the CDC, once again, bungled its latest pronouncement? One, they announced new mask guidelines before releasing any evidence to support them. Two, they announced the changes as if there were near-universal trust in their decisions, which, of course, there is not. Three, many officials, when they backtrack on their advice, don’t always concede how much they don’t know. Four, it’s time for humility in explaining that the virus is a moving target, that virus science is inexact and that it’s not the goalposts that are moving, but the virus itself. Five, none of that means we should ignore the science or that vaccines are not still the best way to combat COVID. Six, I will still take Dr. Fauci over Rand Paul in any virus-related debate or, for that matter, any other debate.

Speaking of Rand Paul, did the junior senator from Kentucky see what the senior senator from Kentucky just did? Mitch McConnell is running ads across his state encouraging people to get vaccinated. McConnell had polio as a kid. He understands. And why can’t those of us who might heartily dislike Mitch McConnell just be happy that he’s right this time when he says, “There is bad advice out there, you know. Apparently you see that all over the place: people practicing medicine without a license, giving bad advice. And that bad advice should be ignored”?

There’s a fascinating piece in The Sun on Friday on the fact that some heavily vaccinated counties are seeing more cases of the delta virus than counties with lower vaccination rates. How could this be? One answer, from an epidemiologist, for this seemingly inexplicable fact: “This is biology. Biology is messy.” And as to what comes next with the virus, and how much worse the problem might become, the answer is that no one knows

It’s bad enough that benighted lawmakers like Lauren Boebert liken a mask mandate or a request to get vaccinated to Nazi-like tyranny. But why would anyone believe Boebert and friends when they claim that mask mandates are part of a Democratic power grab? What power are the Dems grabbing? Who gains, other than mask-makers, I guess, from mask mandates? What politician do you know who willingly walks into a buzzsaw? 

Was anyone surprised to see Boebert among the House crazies who walked into the Senate, where there’s no mask mandate, but where nearly everyone in the body has been vaccinated? There have been reports that Boebert threw a mask at a House staffer who handed her one. Others say she dropped the mask on the floor. Or that she handed it back. It’s not clear. Of course, what is clear when it comes to Boebert?

And here’s the question that really bothers me. Why is Texas Gov. Greg Abbott trying to kill my grandson? OK, he’s not literally trying to kill my grandson, who’s entering first grade in Austin, but he is willfully endangering every schoolchild. 

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Many states will not go back to mask mandates, whatever the evidence suggests. It’s just too unpopular. But in Texas, one of the states where the delta variant is exploding, where COVID-related hospitalizations have increased by 40% in the last week, Abbott just signed an order denying any government entity — including school districts — the right to mandate mask wearing or vaccinations. 

In Austin, they would definitely mandate masks in schools if they could. So elementary school students, like my older grandson, who can’t be vaccinated, also can’t go to a public school where masks are mandated. They can be encouraged, though, I think. The grandson — son of my law-professor daughter whose school also can’t mandate masks or vaccines — will wear one. I hope his classmates and teachers do. 

And while I’m at it, I have to wonder why so many Colorado school districts are still working on their plans.  Elementary school students can’t get vaccinated. Most high school students, though eligible, have not been vaccinated. What would be the point of not following CDC guidelines on masking for all students? In many states, they’re fighting over how history is taught. But I’m pretty sure in Colorado that every school system teaches biology. It’s time to crack open a book.


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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