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Friday, May 28, 2021 Leer en Español

Mask Mandate Advocates Championed ‘Science’ and ‘Experts’ — Until They Didn’t

That politicians in several states are justifying continued mask mandates even after CDC recommendations have changed is a reminder of a timeless lesson about emergency powers.

Image Credit: Flickr-Phil Murphy | (CC BY-NC 2.0)

For most of the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing a mask, especially indoors, was the official guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, on May 13, the CDC announced that vaccinated people — whether they be indoors or outdoors — no longer have to wear masks except under special circumstances.

While this was cause for celebration in most parts of the country, Democratic politicians in various states and cities have decided to leave their mask mandates unchanged — even for those who have been vaccinated. Reason reported that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom are among those who made that decision.

Lightfoot justified her decision by saying, “People need to continue to follow the public health guidance that has gotten us this far, and masks are a big and important part of that.” Gov. Murphy tweeted that New Jersey’s mask mandate remains in place because many people in his state are still not vaccinated. Gov. Newsom said that he did not change mask policy in his state because he was unsure how to deal with kids in schools or businesses that want to keep requiring them.

New Science Must Mean New Laws

Whatever the merits of mask mandates when they were first implemented, they have clearly overstayed their welcome. Now that the CDC has new guidance, to keep mask mandates in place would be to go against their initial justification: namely, that research and expert authorities suggested that we must have them.

At this point, the science is clear: once people are vaccinated, they are essentially immune from COVID-19. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that vaccines had a 97 percent efficacy at stopping symptomatic cases of COVID-19 and an 86 percent efficacy at stopping asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.

A CDC study showed that the risk of COVID-19 infection was reduced by 90 percent after being fully vaccinated, and another CDC study showed that even for older people — those most at risk from COVID-19 — the vaccine is 94 percent effective at preventing hospitalization.

After all of this research came out, the last viable pro-mask-mandate talking point was that there are variants out there, and there is simply too much uncertainty about them to lift mask mandates. But, a study on the variants showed that Pfizer’s vaccine was 89.5 percent effective against the UK variant and 75 percent effective against the South African variant.

The Logic Of Lifting Mask Mandates

Even with this new science, it has been argued by people such as Gov. Murphy in New Jersey that there are still people who are unvaccinated, and therefore we cannot lift the mandates just yet.

The truth is that for those who are unvaccinated, nobody is preventing them from continuing to wear a mask or taking extra safety precautions. In fact, they are still being encouraged to take those measures. And, it is also true among vaccinated people that if they would like to ensure an extra level of safety, then it is 100 percent their prerogative to wear a mask as well.

But the converse must also be true. For those people who are unvaccinated and make — in my view — the ill-advised decision not to wear a mask indoors, that is a risk they are freely taking on. And, for those who are vaccinated, there is absolutely no reason to impose mask-wearing in indoor and outdoor settings alike because studies tell us that they are essentially immune from COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated.

We are at a point where it is more clear than ever that each person can make an individual choice, based on their own situation, whether or not they want to wear a mask. Some people will be more cautious than others, and that is okay.

It Is Always Difficult To Regain Liberties On The Back-End Of Crises

At the start of the pandemic, many Americans looked to the government for guidance on how to best protect themselves, and deferred to their recommendations. However, times of crisis have always been a pretext for the expansion of government and limitations on liberty for exactly that reason: it is easy to justify at the beginning of that crisis.

However, regaining those liberties on the back-end of a crisis is hard. When government officials act in their self-interest — as one would expect them to do — it invariably means not only expanding and maintaining their own power, but also continually trying to impose their preferred version of the world onto others.

In F.A. Hayek’s book, Law, Legislation and Liberty, he wrote:

“‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded – and once they are suspended it is not difficult for anyone who has assumed emergency powers to see to it that the emergency will persist.”

That politicians are justifying continued mask mandates even after the recommendation from the CDC has changed is a clear example of what Hayek was talking about. They are stubbornly trying to maintain the state of emergency to cling to the power and importance it gives them.

Embracing individual choice and liberty now makes more sense than ever because we are on the last stretch of the pandemic and more and more people are not only gaining access to vaccinations but also actually being vaccinated every day. It is past time that our government policies start to reflect that.

  • Jack Elbaum was a Hazlitt Writing Fellow at FEE and is a junior at George Washington University. His writing has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The New York Post, and the Washington Examiner. You can contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Jack_Elbaum.