Rand Paul: If Biden wants to encourage people to get vaccinated, he should burn his mask on television

A leftover from yesterday. The point he’s making here is familiar and well taken: The feds, especially Anthony Fauci, have been overcautious about the benefits of vaccination when a little more enthusiasm might help sell skeptics on getting their shots. You want to convince someone who’s vaccine-hesitant to take the plunge? Then stop taking so many precautions. Demonstrate your confidence that the vaccine will protect you by ditching the masks and social distancing after you’ve been inoculated.

Two points, though.

One: Is anyone actually holding out on getting the vaccine for the reason Paul articulates, because politicians and experts have misled them into suspecting that it doesn’t work? I’ve heard of people saying no to the vax because of side effects, because they fear the product wasn’t sufficiently tested, because they think COVID isn’t a real threat, because they’re conspiracy theorists who believe there are microchips in it or whatever, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard someone say that they’ve come to believe the vax is a bust because Biden and Fauci are still wearing masks after getting their shots.

There’s lots of data showing that the vaccines are effective at this point. The stunning disappearance of cases in Israel, the shrinking COVID death toll in American nursing homes, the CDC data showing only a tiny number of “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated people. The public has access to that information. What makes us think Joe Biden burning his mask would move someone who hasn’t been moved by all the other evidence?

Two: If Paul wants to see a *probable* case of vaccinated people transmitting the virus to each other he need look no further than the CDC study of the nursing home in his home state of Kentucky that came out yesterday. Eighteen fully vaccinated residents were infected in that case by a tricky variant of the virus. Granted, there’s no hard proof that any vaccinated person infected another vaccinated person; there were unvaccinated people in the population of residents and staff too so conceivably each vaccinated person was infected by an unvaccinated one. But it’s also possible that some of the unvaccinated ones were infected by vaccinated people.

In which case, they probably should have been wearing masks, no? And if the answer to that is “well, they only got infected because they’re elderly and their immune systems were weak,” here’s where I remind you that our mask-wearing president is 78. Watch, then read on.

Speaking of mask-wearing, a new Ipsos poll out this week found that Americans have already begun transitioning to a post-mask normal. Sixty-three percent are still wearing masks when they leave their homes but that’s down 10 points from two months ago. Imagine what the number will look like next month. Relatedly, prominent liberal publications have begun considering a question they would have deemed unthinkable before the number of daily vaccinations in the U.S. really began ramping up. Namely: Is it really necessary to wear a mask outdoors, as is still required in some states like Massachusetts? A few days ago Slate pissed off some of its lefty readers by daring to wonder if outdoor mask-wearing was gratuitous. Today the NYT takes the baton in trying to reshape liberal conventional wisdom on prudent precautions:

“I think it’s a bit too much to ask people to put the mask on when they go out for a walk or jogging or cycling,” said Dr. Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer of infectious disease and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews School of Medicine in Scotland, where outdoor masking has never been required. “We’re in a different stage of the pandemic. I think outdoor masks should not have been mandated at all. It’s not where the infection and transmission occurs.”

“Let me go for my run, maskless. Mask in pocket,” tweeted Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician and the medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center. “Given how conservative I have been on my opinions all year, this should tell you how low risk is, in general, for outdoors transmission for contact over short periods — and lower still after vaccination. Keep the masks on you for when you are stationary in a crowd and headed indoors.”

One expert proposed what she called the “two-out-of-three” rule. Outdoors, masked, distanced: So long as any two of those conditions apply, you can ignore precautions related to the third. If you’re outdoors *and* distanced, forget the mask. If you’re not, don’t. Which is a guideline that should appeal to righties, since many Republicans accused BLM protesters last summer of having spread the virus by holding mass demonstrations even though those rallies were outdoors.

In lieu of an exit question, go read this letter to the head of the CDC signed by Paul and Mike Lee, among others, inquiring why the feds insist on masks for children as young as two when many European countries don’t require them and infections among young children are negligible. It’s a hardship for parents to keep toddlers masked up or risk being barred from spaces like airplanes. Why can’t we relax the guidance for a low-low-risk cohort?