There’s science, medical science, and statistical analysis and epidemiology, and public safety too. And then there’s freedom, which should have nothing to do with science at all, but now does. Choose one, not the others. Choose to believe in science, or more precisely, to believe the science, that certain things can be proved to be so, beyond all reasonable doubt. Other things can be shown, through proofs, to be utter nonsense. There was a pandemic. Many died. There still is a pandemic. Many more will die. Those masks did some good. Those vaccines did a whole lot of good. The data show that. Or, alternatively, believe in freedom. Telling people they had to wear those masks took away their freedom in a profound way. And shutting down everything so the virus wouldn’t spread took away everyone’s freedom everywhere, and ruined the economy too. And one should be free to decide to take that vaccine or not. That’s not the government’s business. This is all about freedom. The science is the problem here. Science takes away freedom, or can, and it certainly has taken away everyone’s freedom in the last year and a half. So it’s science or freedom. Choose. One or the other.
Of course that seems like a false choice, but now it’s real enough. The Washington Post reviews the relevant legislation:
Across the country, GOP lawmakers are rallying around the cause of individual freedom to counter community-based disease mitigation methods, moves experts say leave the country ill-equipped to counter the resurgent coronavirus and a future, unknown outbreak.
In some states, anger at perceived overreach by health officials has prompted legislative attempts to limit their authority, including new state laws that prevent the closure of businesses or allow lawmakers to rescind mask mandates. Some state courts have reined in the emergency and regulatory powers governors have wielded against the virus. And in its recent rulings and analysis, the U.S. Supreme Court has signaled its willingness to limit disease mitigation in the name of religious freedom.
The science says one thing – masks and lockdowns are absolutely necessary – and everyone’s freedom is suddenly gone. And yes, people are angry. And as for religious freedom, in April it was this:
In another late-night ruling, the Supreme Court on Friday blocked another California coronavirus restriction on religious gatherings, saying the state’s limits on home-based Bible study and prayer sessions violated constitutional rights.
The 5-to-4 order on an emergency petition illustrates how a new majority on the court – with Justice Amy Coney Barrett playing a decisive role – is now in control when the court considers if pandemic-related restrictions cross the line to endanger religious rights.
Constitutional protections are implicated any time a state treats “any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise,” the majority wrote. “It is no answer that a state treats some comparable secular businesses or other activities as poorly as or even less favorably than the religious exercise at issue.”
In this case, the majority said, gatherings of more than three households were banned at prayer meetings in homes even though California permits “hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time.”
And then all the California megachurches reopened – no masks, no nothing. Covid deaths there spiked a bit, but that is the price one willingly pays for one’s religious freedom. Covid deaths spiked everywhere at that time. No one much noticed.
That was then, but this is now:
“The legal framework has evolved in ways that will complicate and perhaps undermine efforts to deal with the next public health crisis or even routine health threats,” said Wendy Parmet, director of the Northeastern University Center for Health Policy and Law, who also said she has been a “long critic of emergency laws and their laws and their potential for abuse.”
A key issue, Parmet and others say, is that the legislative backlash is based on partisan assumptions about this pandemic, limiting states’ options in the face of a new threat.
In short, there’s a real potential for abuse in these matters, but there are public health issues. Keep as many people from dying as is possible, but don’t overdo it.
How? There are those who, when someone shows how this thing could kill us all, and has proof, hear all of that as a coercive political statement, not a scientific statement of fact. That’s when science has to be stopped:
At least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering measures to limit the legal authority of public health agencies, according to the Network for Public Health Law, which partnered with the National Association of County and City Health Officials to document the legislative counterpunches. Lawmakers in at least 46 states have introduced hundreds of bills relating to legislative oversight of gubernatorial or executive actions during coronavirus or other emergencies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The point is clear. Science will not tell us what we can and cannot do. There’s a national network that provides the script to say so:
The measures, as described by the Network for Public Health Law, include a North Dakota law that prohibits a mask mandate, even during an outbreak of tuberculosis, and a new Montana law that prohibits the use of quarantine to separate people who have probably been infected or exposed but are not yet sick. Many bills are modeled on legislation originally crafted by conservative think tanks and activist groups, according to state lawmakers who introduced them.
Among them is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has touted its model legislation aimed at reining in emergency powers so it is more “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling public health or safety purpose.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council writes these laws, almost word for word, for state legislatures to enact. They provide the scripts for state representatives to read on the floor and to the press. No one is going to order much of anything be done about anything now:
In an interview, Jonathon Hauenschild, ALEC’s staff policy expert on the model legislation, said that from early in the pandemic he viewed governors’ use of emergency powers as problematic…
The group’s legislative members wrote their model Emergency Limitation Act in 2020. It was finalized in early January, in time for states’ new legislative sessions.
Hauenschild said he has seen the model act’s influence in new laws in Indiana and Kentucky, where certain emergency orders now expire after 30 days unless the General Assembly approves an extension and there are new protections to purchase firearms. The group’s model legislation, which public health experts believe would leave states relatively defenseless in an emergency, is not motivated by ideology, Hauenschild argues.
“It’s really just trying to inject a little bit of accountability into the system,” he said.
That’s another way to say no arrogant scientists will push anyone around now, but ALEC is not alone:
An aide to Massachusetts state Rep. Nicholas Boldyga (R) said his office worked with Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based libertarian group, on legislation imposing a 30-day sunset on emergency orders. Daniel Dew, legal policy director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, estimated that the group has had discussions with lawmakers in more than half the states and has been able to trace at least 18 bills to its model legislation or other activities.
Montana state Rep. Matt Regier (R) said he received input from the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the political network funded by the Koch fortune, on his bill, which limits the sort of executive actions that can be taken during an emergency, including by enshrining certain religious exemptions and ensuring the legislature gets to weigh in after 45 days. The measure gained approval in May over Democratic objections, and it was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte.
All of these groups, pretty much writing all these laws for the hapless locals, seem to have one aim. Keep everything open. Many will die, but business is business. The business of America is business, as they like to say. And this is about freedom too:
In March, Ohio’s legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Mike DeWine (R) in response to the approval of a bill giving lawmakers the power to rescind executive actions taken by the governor or state health authorities. State Sen. Rob McColley, a Republican co-sponsor of the legislation, said he had no qualms going against a governor of his own party.
That’s because McColley, like other advocates of similar legislation, views the incursions on personal liberty as grievous enough to rival the loss of life from the pandemic.
To him, this is simple. Freedom is more important than life itself. Those state health authorities are the enemies of freedom, which assures the worst possible outcomes here:
The recent passage of Ohio’s SB 22 has left local officials grappling to understand its future effect on everything from closing restaurants to quarantining residents.
Keary McCarthy, executive director of the Ohio Mayors Alliance, said that in a public health emergency, local officials need immediate clarity.
“If executive and legislative branches get into a dispute about all of these things, it really creates some challenges for local officials,” McCarthy said. “What are the rules? How do we implement them? How do we keep our folks safe?”
Who cares? You’ll be free! But this nonsense had to happen:
Eighteen months ago, few people anticipated an infection that was as deadly, spread as stealthily or acted as disproportionately on certain groups in the way the coronavirus has done. With responsibility for protecting the public’s health falling historically to state and local government, many governors turned to general emergency powers, intended for disruptive but short-lived events like wildfires or tornadoes. As the pandemic persisted, they re-upped their powers, with many GOP lawmakers fighting back.
Some battles between Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures have landed in state courts. The supreme courts of Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively, ruled that their governors didn’t have the power to renew executive orders relating to the pandemic or to declare multiple public health emergencies.
And in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis (D), who has been under fire from Republican legislators, took matters into his own hands, announcing last month that he would phase out his emergency powers.
But that doesn’t help anything:
Public health law has long been controversial. In 2001, when the country was comparatively united following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax mailings, model legislation that has since been adopted by at least 40 states and some countries was met with opposition, including from the left and center.
It “turns governors into dictators,” the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons wrote about the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, by empowering them “to create a police state by fiat, and for a sufficient length of time to destroy or muzzle [their] political opposition.”
The act, which strengthened powers to respond to public health emergencies, largely withstood the tests of Zika and Ebola. It anticipated the need for mask mandates and social distancing but failed to foresee other characteristics of the current pandemic – including lockdowns in America’s biggest cities, said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who drafted the act.
“We are always looking back at the current or past crisis, not the future crisis,” Gostin said.
And this new crisis has been and continues to be awful, with no good way to fix things now. The freedom folks are too angry at science, and they won’t be pushed around any longer.
Meanwhile, there’s this town. Helaine Olen looks at Los Angeles:
For all the strong reactions the Los Angeles County mask mandate has provoked, it’s not clear whether the directive is generating the response that would both calm fears and reduce covid risk: more vaccinations.
Last weekend, Los Angeles County once again began requiring everyone, including the vaccinated, to wear a mask in public indoor settings. With covid-19 cases surging over the past month in the Southland – as Southern California is known out here – the measure was clearly intended to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
But the return of the mask mandate stunned and divided residents of this populous and diverse county. Instead of calming business owners, it sparked worries about renewed restrictions on capacity and possible shutdowns. Sheriff Alex Villanueva – last heard grandstanding on the county’s dire homelessness situation – announced he would not “expend our limited resources” enforcing the mandate.
Well, he’s a bit of a jerk, but this isn’t working:
Almost everyone who has been hospitalized or died of covid-19 is unvaccinated, according to Barbara Ferrer, the head of the L.A. County Board of Health, which ordered everyone to mask back up. This mirrors national trends of covid cases amid the surge driven by the delta variant. The relatively few breakthrough cases among the vaccinated are mostly mild.
In Los Angeles County, 62 percent of residents over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated. The crowd that’s fueling the most recent pandemic wave is the other 38 percent – those who are unprotected. County health officials, while well-intentioned in seeking to contain the covid spread, are effectively punishing the people who did the right thing – that is, get vaccinated – to protect those who did not. It doesn’t help matters that current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance doesn’t recommend masks indoors for fully vaccinated individuals.
But out here the simple fact is that the honor system didn’t work. Those who were not vaccinated at all stopped wearing masks indoors, pretending to be fully vaccinated. They could get away with that. No one was checking. There was no arrangement for that. No one knew they’d be shedding massive amounts of the virus, infecting everyone is sight. Everyone else just had to trust them. And now the hospitals are filling up again.
What can the state do now? The science versus freedom wars rage on. But the city or the country or the state may need do nothing. The people may fix this:
Simple, clear and consistent guidance is needed. The people who need to be penalized are those who are continuing to put others at risk. Some businesses at least are doing a bit better than the county in making it clear that there are rewards for getting vaccinated. While it doesn’t seem likely now that the government or many employers are going to mandate vaccines, businesses are free to decide whom to serve based on covid-19 protection status.
A number of Los Angeles-area bar owners – a group who knows something about human behavior – is moving to allow only vaccinated people into their establishments. And when banning the unvaccinated, they aren’t relying on the honor system among patrons.
Yes, keep the politicians out of this:
“We believe in science,” Ross O’Carroll, owner and manager of the Lash Social, a downtown Los Angeles bar and performance space, told me about his recent decision to demand all potential customers show proof of vaccination status to gain entry. (He’ll also accept a recent negative covid test.) “We see it as not contributing to the overall spread and putting our industry at risk of another shutdown.”
Other establishments such as gyms and hair salons can do the same. Instead of punishing the people who did it right, give them positive reinforcement, while making it clear to the wrongdoers their actions come with consequences – for themselves.
This would be illegal in Florida. Their new law is clear. Ask for proof of vaccination from staff or customers and face fines that will put you out of business, or in the case of schools and universities, face being shut down forever. Ron DeSantis is serious about freedom, but E. J. Dionne sees this:
The surge of the coronavirus delta variant seems to have lit a fire under many Republican politicians. As the virus spreads largely in GOP regions with low vaccination rates, leaders of a party, where anti-vax sentiment has run rampant, have started sounding the alarm: Not getting vaccinated really can kill you.
One of the most unequivocal statements came from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “These shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible,” he said last week, adding a swipe at those pushing falsehoods about vaccines, who happen to include many in his own party:
“I want to encourage everybody to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.”
As Republican pollster Whit Ayres notes, McConnell, who endured polio as a child, has always embraced the power of vaccination.
But there’s this:
More surprising was a vaccine plug from Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, a longtime baiter of federal authorities whose reelection campaign is selling merchandise mocking Anthony S. Fauci, the White House health adviser.
Yes, even the man peddling “Don’t Fauci My Florida” T-shirts seems to have noticed that over the past two weeks, 20 percent of all the nation’s new covid-19 cases were in his state.
“If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
His base, which is Trump’s base too, may turn on him for saying that, but there are other players out there:
Democratic pollster Guy Molyneux pointed to the unpopularity of the anti-vaccine position generally, and especially among “red state business communities” who fear new lockdowns.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if GOP pols are hearing from business leaders: Knock it off with the anti-vax nonsense,” Molyneux said. The National Football League’s tough stand on vaccination is a high-profile example of a business alarmed about the impact of a resurgent virus on its operations.
We can be thankful that the facts are starting to matter. In recent weeks the five states with the highest rates of covid cases – Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada – had a higher rate of new vaccinations than the national average.
The people know. The politicians don’t. And there’s this too:
Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, said on Sunday top US health officials were discussing whether to revise mask guidance for Americans vaccinated against Covid-19.
“This is under active consideration,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union, though he also emphasized that local governments can issue their own rules under current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…
Fauci said local leaders, particularly in areas with low rates of vaccination, needed to lead outreach efforts to get people vaccinated.
And that’s happening:
He highlighted recent work by two prominent Republicans who have repeatedly criticized him: a Louisiana representative, Steve Scalise, and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis.
“I was very heartened to hear people like Steve Scalise come out and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get vaccinated,’” Fauci said. “Even Governor DeSantis right now in Florida is saying the same thing. We’ve got to get more people who relate well to the individuals who are not getting vaccinated to get out there and encourage them to get vaccinated.”
Scalise, the House Republican whip, was vaccinated last week and told the New Orleans Times-Picayune he had waited because he thought he had some immunity from an earlier Covid-19 infection. But the rise of the Delta variant appeared to sway him.
“When you talk to people who run hospitals, in New Orleans or other states, 90% of people in hospital with Delta variant have not been vaccinated,” he said. “That’s another signal the vaccine works.”
Science! Not freedom! Science! Or maybe not:
From Missouri, a local mayor told CBS’s Face the Nation some prominent local figures were still speaking out against the vaccine.
“We continue to have to push back against negative messaging,” said Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City.
Lucas said the focus in Kansas City was on getting people vaccinated and that his city did not currently have plans to re-introduce mask requirements, though it was something he had considered.
“I think every mayor in a major city in America is wondering if it is time to return to mandates,” Lucas said.
But there’s all the new legislation – no public health mandates from any level of government – and the man also said this:
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top adviser on the pandemic, confirmed that the nation was beginning to backslide. “It’s not going to be good – we’re going in the wrong direction,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Ah, but we’ll be free! And that’s the wrong direction.