Culture Wars/Current Controversies

COVID hawks are fighting a losing war

By Noah Millman, The Week

Our pandemic rules increasingly make no sense — and it’s hurting public health.

I spent about a week in October at the Austin Film Festival and Writers’ Conference, attending panel discussions, round-tables, pitch competitions — and, of course, parties. Because there’s still a pandemic going on, the festival imposed a number of rules: All attendees had to be either vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 within a couple of days of the festival start, and in any indoor forum attendees had to be masked, unless they were eating or drinking.

But at parties everyone is continually drinking, and sometimes eating. So the same people who were going from panels where they were assiduously masked went to the bar where they were drinking and shouting without masks in close proximity.

Needless to say, from an epidemiological perspective, this is not a set of rules that makes any sense.

To live in COVID-conscious areas of the country is to be confronted, continually, with that kind of epidemiological bipolarity. The synagogue I attend mandates universal masking on top of a vaccination requirement for in-person attendance. Public schools require staff to be vaccinated and universal masking, including of young children. Theaters have rigorous testing regimens and complex rules to prevent viral transmission in rehearsal or on stage, and all patrons must be both vaccinated and masked. Meanwhile, people can go to nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and parties, socializing freely without masks or distancing.

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