Fauci: We should probably wear masks and social distance even after being vaccinated

Buddy, we can’t get everyone to wear masks and social distance now, when there’s no vaccine, no highly effective treatment, and upwards of 200,000 people per day are testing positive. We’re staring at an eventual death toll on par with World War II and our wretched leaders won’t even pretend to take it seriously:

Even in some of the reddest states in America, leaders are shifting from a “personal responsibility” approach to an “enforced compliance” approach to controlling the virus because, well, people just won’t take personal responsibility:

More restrictive public health measures are likely imminent in Wyoming as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to soar statewide, Gov. Mark Gordon confirmed in a press briefing Friday…

“We’ve relied on people to be responsible and they’re being irresponsible,” he said. “If I can’t rely on you, we’re going to have to do something else.”

The state’s hospitals are already stressed. Gordon said some have had to set up tents because they don’t have space in their emergency rooms, though he did not say what hospitals have had to take that step.

For most of the country, the prospect of being able to whip off their masks next spring and gather again at social events is the only thing keeping them sane through this nightmare. To be told now that the safe move is COVID protocols forever is so dispiriting that I worry it’s going to convince some to throw caution to the wind and have that big extended-family Thanksgiving dinner they were otherwise planning to eschew.

How about we compromise? If you’re Fauci’s age then sure, wearing a mask when you’re indoors in a crowded space during winter “COVID season” next week is a shrewd extra bit of protection in case you’re among the unlucky five percent who get sick even after being vaccinated. But for the rest of us, this has to end at some point — and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, assuming Moderna’s findings are borne out in the wild. None of the people in their trial who got infected after receiving the vaccine developed a severe case of the disease. That’s what we’re aiming for, I thought, not zero infections but a new reality in which infection is unlikely and non-debilitating even when it does happen. If the outcome we get from all of this is a world were COVID is far less prevalent than the flu and scarcely more dangerous then that smells like success.

We don’t mask up and social distance to avoid flu infections, do we?

The rest of Fauci’s message yesterday was more palatable. He acknowledged that a national lockdown isn’t going to happen, as did Biden COVID advisor Vivek Murthy in a separate interview. “The key here is applying these restrictions judiciously and precisely,” said Murthy, comparing social-distancing rules to a dial that gets turned up or down in different hot spots depending on what’s needed. A national lockdown would be a measure of “last resort,” he said. If Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, was right when he said on Friday that up to 20 million Americans might be vaccinated during December, it’s possible that the vaccines will have eased the pandemic sufficiently by the time Biden takes office on January 20 to make lockdowns less urgent as a measure for controlling infections. Even if “only” 10 percent of the population has been vaccinated by that point, that could make a big dent depending on who that 10 percent is. Vaccinate people who are more likely to be superspreaders based on the nature of their work and it should have an outsized effect on chains of transmission.

Speaking of Slaoui, he also told the Financial Times this weekend that it’s time to start letting Operation Warp Speed’s personnel work with Biden’s transition team:

Mr. Slaoui said: “I hope nothing interferes with [Operation Warp Speed]. It is a matter of life and death for thousands of people. The operation has always been about making vaccines and therapeutics available faster for the country and for the world.”

Asked whether that meant allowing the project to make contact with Mr. Biden’s team, he replied: “I would assume, yes.”

However, Mr. Moncef noted that he could not reach out to the Biden team without a green light from the White House. “It’s not for us to decide, frankly,” he said.

Fauci made the same point, saying of Biden’s team, “Of course it would be better if we could start working with them.” Having health officials complain publicly about the delayed transition will bring political pressure on Trump like nothing else can to start recognizing the reality of the election outcome. He can gag his garden-variety political appointees, but people like Slaoui and Robert O’Brien who have portfolios dealing with life and death want Team Joe to hit the ground running for obvious reasons. It would be a humanitarian disaster as well as a political catastrophe that would haunt Trump in 2024 if he ended up slowing down the vaccine rollout because his ego is too bruised from losing to let Biden’s people get up to speed. It’s not the immorality of it that would stop him from doing it — he’s perfectly capable of trying to punish the country for having preferred the other guy to him — but enough Republican pols will start complaining that he’ll end up relenting. I’d expect cooperation on COVID and the vaccine to be the first thing the two administrations partner on.

I’ll leave you with this, from a nurse whose observations on Twitter about what she’s seeing in South Dakota went viral over the weekend and landed her this interview. Some people think this is a must-watch indictment of COVID denialism in middle America, others think this sounds way “too good to check” and that she’s making things up, or exaggerating, to make a political point. I’d guess the truth lies in between.