Don't throw away those mostly useless masks quite yet
When United States District Court judge Kathryn Mizelle issued a ruling holding that the CDC exceeded its statutory authority and violated the Administrative Procedures Act when it rushed out its mask mandate in early 2021, there was general rejoicing across large parts of America. The only downside, said conservatives, was that the order was a gift to the Democrats in the lead-up to the November midterms because it removed an issue that was problematic for Democrats fighting to retain seats in Congress. The Biden administration, however, doesn't seem to want that gift because it's planning to challenge the order.
Given how unpopular masks are among normal people, especially in red states, there was general rejoicing when Judge Mizelle's order became known. These videos, more than most, give a sense of the elation on airplanes, where masks have caused too many travelers to go crazy and, often, get violent:
epic day! pic.twitter.com/ETJyGkTpOC— Justin Hart (@justin_hart) April 19, 2022
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. This is the most important announcement I’ve ever made. The federal mask mandate is over. Take off your mask if you choose!”— Ben Dietderich (@ben_dietd) April 18, 2022
A wonderful moment mid flight on @alaskaair today! pic.twitter.com/nWSatDRB83
So, although some neurotic hypochondriacs (AKA Democrats) want to continue wearing the mask no matter what, regular Americans are grateful for this return to normal. That means the order was a gift to the Biden administration. Come November, Americans won't associate it with a particularly exquisite form of unpleasant and unnecessary control over the population.
But the Biden administration has a problem: because it's clearly lost the center, it must double down on pleasing the base — and the base wants masks. Rather than come out and admit that, the Biden administration shifted to the CDC the responsibility for deciding whether to appeal the order, and it turns out that the CDC doesn't want to lose its power:
To protect CDC's public health authority beyond the ongoing assessment announced last week, CDC has asked DOJ to proceed with an appeal in Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc., et al., v. Biden, et al. It is CDC's continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health. CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary. CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC's legal authority to protect public health.
In addition to demanding that its authority to muzzle Americans be restored, the "CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in all indoor public transportation settings." Doing so, the CDC insists, protects people. Except that's hogwash. We've known for almost two years that the cloth and paper masks people wear are useless:
In sum, of the 14 RCTs [randomized controlled trials] that have tested the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses, three suggest, but do not provide any statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis, that masks might be useful. The other eleven suggest that masks are either useless—whether compared with no masks or because they appear not to add to good hand hygiene alone—or actually counterproductive. Of the three studies that provided statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis that was not contradicted within the same study, one found that the combination of surgical masks and hand hygiene was less effective than hand hygiene alone, one found that the combination of surgical masks and hand hygiene was less effective than nothing, and one found that cloth masks were less effective than surgical masks.
The most compelling argument against masks' efficacy is a graph showing the difference in cases in states with mandates and those with no mandates — or more accurately, a graph showing the absence of such differences.
The smart way to handle masks is to trust people to know their risk tolerance. If they're worried, they can wear a mask. If they're not worried, they can bravely face the world. But that means empowering individuals, and if there's one thing an increasingly totalitarian government hates, it's empowering individuals.
Image: This is where Americans want to see their masks go. Freepik image and license.