Fauci: For the good of society, you can't dine indoors or go to theaters -- even after being vaccinated

I’m willing to cut him slack on asking vaccinated people to still wear masks when they’re out and about in the near term, as that’s a minor imposition to protect the unvaccinated when we’re still not sure how contagious the average vaccinated person might be. (Although the early evidence is: Not very.)

But asking the vaccinated to continue to isolate in misery *after* they’ve done the prudent and virtuous thing by rendering themselves immune from serious illness?

Madness. If you weren’t worried about experts underselling the benefits of vaccination before, read this passage from yesterday’s White House Q&A with the country’s most celebrated COVID authority and despair:

So there are things, even if you’re vaccinated, that you’re not going to be able to do in society: for example, indoor dining, theaters, places where people congregate. That’s because of the safety of society. You, yourself, what you can do when you are together with another person, we are looking at that, and we’re going to try and find out very quickly what recommendations could be made about what people can do.

One of the things that’s universal here that we know: that at this point in time, it is unclear whether when you get vaccinated and you might be protected from clinical disease, which is the primary endpoint of the vaccine studies, that you could conceivably be infected, have virus in your nasopharynx, and at that same time have no symptoms, which is the reason why we recommend and say you still need to wear a mask. Because if you do have virus in your nasopharynx, even though we hope that when the data comes in, it’s going to show that the virus level is quite low and you’re not transmitting it, we don’t know that now. And for that reason, we want to make sure that people continue to wear masks despite the fact that they’re vaccinated.

As far as I’m aware, the only behavioral incentive currently offered by the CDC for getting vaccinated is exemption from having to quarantine if you’ve recently been in close contact with someone who’s tested positive — and only then if you’re asymptomatic and only if that close contact happened within three months of getting your shots. That’s as far as the agency is willing to project on how long immunity lasts.

We have to do better. Israel knows what to do:

Israel is preparing itself to be split in half from next week, with the government creating a new privileged tier in society: the vaccinated.

Nearly 50% of the population who have chosen to be inoculated against Covid will be provided with a “green pass” a week after their second shot, as will those with presumed immunity after contracting the disease.

From Sunday, the pass will grant access to gyms, hotels, swimming pools, concerts, and places of worship. Restaurants and bars will be included from early March.

For the rest, including children under 16 who are not eligible for coronavirus shots, many of the activities shut down during the year-long crisis will remain off-limits, although some will be available if they provide a negative coronavirus test.

An Israeli airline is now offering domestic flights exclusively for people who’ve either been vaccinated or have gained immunity the old-fashioned way, by recovering from COVID. Israel’s green passport is high tech (relatively speaking): You download an app to your phone and enter your identifying information, and if records confirm that you’ve had both shots the “passport” is installed on your device. Any attempt to “forge” it means in criminal charges.

Whether the U.S. could feasibly mimic that system for a population of 330 million is above my pay grade technologically. I assume the answer is no; even if we could get health insurers to buy in, privacy concerns and the general sclerosis in how we’ve responded to the pandemic since the beginning — with the crucial exception of Operation Warp Speed — suggests we couldn’t get this up and running in the near term. (Remember how Big Tech was supposedly going to come to the rescue on contact tracing?) But we could at least prioritize rhetorically the way Israel does, by encouraging the vaccinated to get back to normal while urging the unvaccinated to exercise caution by staying home. Much of America is already open for business, if only at limited capacity. There’s no reason to ask the vaccinated to eschew dining indoors or going to the movies if those pleasures are available locally. The onus should be on the unvaccinated to avoid them.

One recoils instinctively at a two-tier system in which some citizens have privileges that others don’t, but hey — we already have that system with COVID thanks to the prioritization schemes states are following in vaccinating their populations. I’d personally be okay with the feds asking businesses to give vaccinated senior citizens priority in services, on the assumption that unvaccinated seniors who want to get back to normal will be less likely to forge vaccination cards than younger unvaccinated people would be due to the risk of infection. That scheme would be underinclusive in that it would overlook the many essential workers and medical personnel under 65 who’ve gotten their shots, but it would at least give society’s highest-priority demographic an added incentive to get their shots.

In lieu of an exit question, read Ross Douthat’s reminder to Biden and Fauci that the COVID emergency must end. At a certain point, prudence in urging precautions inculcates a pessimism that society will ever return to normal, and the pessimism will lead states to keep restrictions in place long after they’re necessary to control the infection. There has to be light at the end of the vaccine tunnel, or else why enter it?

Update: Noah Rothman’s probably right about this — and the punchline is that the second group he mentions will be the vaccinated one.