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OPINION | FAYE FLAM: Making sense of masks

by FAYE FLAM Bloomberg Opinion (TNS) | September 25, 2021 at 3:59 a.m.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed sent an unintentional message recently by violating her own mask mandates while partying, maskless, in a jam-packed jazz club. She said she was “feeling the spirit,” enjoying the music.

Despite her hypocrisy, a more serious problem is the misleading messages sent by the rules themselves. Americans are in dire need of guidance that’s coherent, fair, sustainable and backed by evidence. And they’re not getting it from public health authorities or the rule-makers who rely on them.

“We don’t need the fun police to come in and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing,” Breed said when questioned. But as Charles C.W. Cook wrote on Monday in National Review, she is the person who authorized the mask mandate. She is the fun police.

Her explanation made the point that it’s absurd to expect people to enjoy live music in clubs while wearing masks, as required by local rules. Even the most enthusiastic maskers probably wear a mask about 20 percent of their time in a club or cocktail party or similar event.

Does that really help? Not really. There is scientific evidence to suggest that this small amount of mask wearing is mostly symbolic in such situations.

Early in the pandemic, infectious disease doctor Muge Cevik had collected studies in which researchers employed contact tracing to figure out how and where the virus was actually jumping from person to person. What the studies kept showing was that the virus was transmitted indoors, and the longer people spent indoors together, the more likely transmission would occur.

The San Francisco club did require patrons to be vaccinated, but new data on the Delta variant suggests that it’s still possible for fully vaccinated people to get a mild or asymptomatic case, and possibly to transmit the virus to others. At the same time, covid prevention has to be balanced with human needs.

For a healthier new normal, we need more information to help people navigate a world with less draconian rules. Many younger, healthier people who’ve been vaccinated are rightly not all that scared about getting severely ill. It can happen, but so can brain cancer or getting wiped out by a drunk driver. It’s one of many risks we face, but what makes the virus different is that we don’t want to give the disease to people who are more vulnerable than we are.

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