Biden to local officials: I am begging you to reinstate your mask mandates and pause your reopenings

If you compare the list of states where mask mandates have been lifted to the Times’s list of states where cases are high, you don’t find any obvious correlation.

But for Biden, this isn’t about correlations.

It’s about signaling to people that it’s still too soon to let down their guards. Rochelle Walensky made that point as well this morning in an oddly personal way and now here’s Biden openly pleading with governors to change their policies. The message in both cases is the same: We’re not out of the woods yet, even if it feels in some parts of the country like we are.

Some states without mask mandates are seeing cases go up. The Dakotas are two, Florida is another. But the states where cases are rising most sharply all still have mandates in place — Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. Meanwhile, various states that lifted their mandates are seeing low case counts, from Arizona to Arkansas to Texas, where infections have dropped steadily since the mandate was lifted three weeks ago. Not to be repetitive but I think the weather is more of a factor in explaining these divides than whether a mandate is in effect. Texans are seeing fewer cases because the weather is balmy and beautiful and people are getting more fresh air. Whereas in the north, spring still hasn’t fully sprung so they’re indoors more. Masks may help limit infection inside, but nothing beats open-air ventilation.

The public likes Sleepy Joe’s “safety first” approach, though, it seems:

The president’s approval lands at 72% for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, numerically higher than the 68% of Americans who said the same earlier this month just before Congress passed his $1.9 trillion relief package, his first major legislative achievement…

Biden’s standing on the pandemic is buttressed by overwhelming support from those who identify with his party, with about 9 in 10 Democrats approving of his handling of the public health crisis (96%), vaccine delivery (92%) and the economic response (89%). Strong majorities of independents also approve of Biden on all three fronts: 74%, 77% and 63%, respectively.

You would think, instead of asking governors to reinstate restrictions, he’d offer a sensible compromise that might sweeten the pot for them. How about this: Mask mandates back in effect — but only for unvaccinated people? Fauci and the CDC would resist that on grounds that vaccinated people can still get infected and transmit the virus. But it’s rare, per the CDC’s own study:

In a study of about 4,000 health-care personnel, police, firefighters and other essential workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the vaccines reduced the risk of infection by 80 percent after one shot. Protection increased to 90 percent following the second dose…

Among 2,479 fully vaccinated people, just three had confirmed infections. Among 477 people who received one dose, eight infections were reported.

So a little more than one in a thousand vaccinated people are picking up the virus. We can run a risk that small of them transmitting it to someone else by exempting them from a mask mandate, as a reward for doing the conscientious thing and getting their shots. Although then we’d run into an enforcement problem: Vaccinated people would need to carry proof of their immunization with them at all times when they’re out and about, in case they’re caught maskless indoors somewhere. What’s better, a society where everyone has to mask up even if the odds of them infecting someone are tiny or a society where some get to walk around maskless but frequently have to show their “papers” to justify their privilege?

I’ll leave you with one more bit from today’s presser. Democratic states are having a tougher time now than Republican ones are (California being a notable exception), so this message is aimed more at the Gretchen Whitmers and Andrew Cuomos of the world than the Greg Abbotts.