San Francisco was one of seven Bay Area counties that announced Monday it would be reimposing a mask requirement for all indoor public settings following a rise in COVID-19 infections.
The Associated Press said the new restriction comes as public health officials struggle to contain “the highly contagious delta variant.”
“It is unfortunate we have to do this at this point in the pandemic. None of us wanted to be here,” said Dr. George Han, deputy health officer for Santa Clara County. “But the virus has changed.”
Sundari Mase, interim health officer for Sonoma County, said the delta variant accounts for roughly 95 percent of new COVID cases in the region.
“We are facing a much more aggressive and contagious opponent right now,” Mase said.
Government statistics show that 93 percent of San Francisco residents over the age of 65 are at least partially vaccinated (86 percent are fully vaccinated), while 84 percent of all residents over 12 are at least partially vaccinated.
COVID Deaths Hit … Zero
San Francisco is just one of numerous local governments across the country that has passed or is considering passing new restrictions, as average daily cases in the US have crept back up to 80,000, a figure not seen since February.
Fortunately, though the delta variant may indeed be a more contagious opponent, it’s also proving to be a less deadly one, as data show the rise in cases has not been accompanied with a corresponding surge in mortality. Nationally, average daily deaths remain near pandemic lows at about 350 (per the 7-day rolling average), about half of what it was in mid-April and about one-tenth of the pandemic peak reached in January.
This is particularly true of San Francisco, where COVID mortality has all but disappeared. In fact, the current 7-day rolling average COVID death count is zero.
Daily COVID deaths in San Francisco are literally zero.— Jon Miltimore (@miltimore79) August 4, 2021
93 percent of residents over the age of 65 are at least partially vaccinated.
Yet mask mandates are back. pic.twitter.com/MEmd8cWjip
Why the Leviathan Loves Crisis
Many will argue that mask requirements are not overly invasive measures, and therefore are prudent as a mere precaution. After all, the case can be made that masks can offer protection against COVID-19 and help us wind down the pandemic sooner.
The problem is there’s a vast distance between recommending a policy for protection and mandating one. And as Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser recently demonstrated, many public officials seem more fond of mask mandates than actually wearing masks themselves in social situations.
Additionally, mask orders have the effect of keeping the public in a state of emergency. As Stanford Professor of Medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharya recently told FEE, there seems to be a reluctance on the part of many to admit the pandemic is all but over.
“We should be declaring a great and resounding success,” Bhattacharya told FEE’s Brad Polumbo. “The COVID emergency is over. We still need to take COVID seriously, and there are still vulnerable people here and abroad left to vaccinate. But we can start to treat it as one disease among many that afflict people rather than an all-consuming threat.”
This reluctance should come as little surprise. History shows that public officials struggle mightily to relinquish powers claimed during periods of emergency.
In his classic book Crisis and Leviathan, economist Robert Higgs noted that crises served as some of the biggest government power grabs in modern history. The New Deal was born out of the crisis of the Great Depression. The War on Terror and the Patriot Act were the rotten fruits of the 9-11 attacks. It was not accidental that these massive expansions of government followed crises.
“‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have eroded,” the Nobel-Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek once observed. “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.”
But it’s not just Austrian economists who’ve observed this phenomenon. It’s one well known in popular culture. In Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine (soon to be Emperor Palpatine) promises that he’ll relinquish his emergency powers, which he’s accepting “with great reluctance.”
“The power you give me I will lay down when this crisis has abated,” Palpatine says.
Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious), of course, has no such intention.
It’s Not Just about Masks
Similar to the Great Depression and the 9-11 attacks (and the rise of the Galactic Empire), the COVID-19 pandemic may very well end up serving as a catalyst for massive government expansion.
It’s important to understand it’s not just about mask mandates; they are just one example of government overreach (and a convenient one for lawmakers because they seem so benign). Even as mortality has plunged because of vaccination and natural immunity, the pandemic is being invoked to justify everything from “vaccine passports” to student loan “cancelation,” and nakedly extraconstutional actions such as the extension of the CDC’s eviction moratorium.
The pandemic may be all but over, but the crisis may just be beginning. Indeed, that will likely be the case if Americans don’t remember the only moral raison d'être of government: the protection of liberty.