Massachusetts town: We're keeping our outdoor mask mandate for now despite the new CDC guidance

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

This isn’t science, Jonathan Last notes correctly. It’s the blue-state version of the COVID culture war.

With a dash of pandemic-era neuroticism about safety and security thrown in.


Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican, lifted the state’s outdoor mask mandate last week in accordance with the CDC’s new guidance. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, the agency said, it’s fine to take off your mask outside so long as you keep your distance from strangers. Baker signed off on that, at which point local leaders in Brookline said: No thanks. “Out of an abundance of caution and in our residents’ best interests, the Town of Brookline will not follow suit with the state’s decision to lift the outdoor mask mandate today,” the town’s top health official said. “Our face covering requirement has served as a protective layer that limits the possibility of spreading COVID-19 and we are reluctant to relax it at this time without further public input and review by the Advisory Council on Public Health.”

Public input? I thought we were Following The Science in managing COVID, not public opinion.

Meanwhile, in deep-blue D.C., which is now in the top 15 among U.S. states in terms of the share of residents who’ve received their first dose and boasts a minuscule positivity rate of 1.2 percent, they’ve decided that the time has come to crack down on … dancing at weddings.

Seemingly ripped straight from the plot of “Footloose,” Washington, D.C.’s, new social distancing rules ban standing and dancing at weddings. The sudden announcement, made just as wedding season kicks off, has blindsided couples getting ready to tie the knot…

[Wedding planner Stephanie] Sadowski says couples are being forced to move their weddings outside of the nation’s capital with just one or two week’s notice…

In a statement to local affiliate Fox 5 DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office said it has the dancing ban in place as an extra layer of safety to reduce the spread of COVID-19 because when people stand and dance their behavior changes. For example, people are more likely to get close and touch each other.


That’s some fancy thinkin’ by Bowser’s office considering that D.C. residents are only a few minutes’ drive from Maryland and Virginia. People will move their receptions to those states, benefiting their economies instead, and then bring any infections they’ve acquired back to the District with them. The policy does nothing to reduce risk, only to reduce revenue for Washington’s wedding industry.

For good measure, Bowser also rescinded a surprisingly sensible rule that she had promulgated one day earlier. Vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks indoors, her office said — a bold move considering that the CDC is still recommending indoor masks for those who’ve been immunized out of an abundance of caution. Finally, a Democratic official was showing some confidence in the vaccines by granting those who’d opted to receive them a measure of meaningful freedom.

But no, it was either a mistake or Bowser immediately wilted from the heat of the left-wing backlash to her “recklessness.” The new rule was gone in 24 hours.

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes today that an awful lot of Americans are going to require deprogramming to free them from the safety-first “lifestyle” they forged for themselves during COVID:


It’s as if a circuit has been fused. While caution and restrictive behavior can be justified by a conscience informed by the risks, the human mind can also make calculations based on superstition. And one frighteningly common one is the equation of science with truth, fear with realism, and caution with virtue…

The association of danger with permissiveness has warped the “expert class” that is supposed to inform the public. Throughout the pandemic, public-health officials have betrayed their view that they do not trust the public with good news; they seem to fear that an inch given will be a mile taken. And so, even during one of the most successful vaccine rollouts in the world, CDC director Rochelle Walensky warned of “impending doom” just a month ago. But no doom was in the offing.

And the expert class has also corrupted itself. The short circuit of the pandemic has led to a dramatic tightening of groupthink among public-health pundits. One would normally expect that a variety of experts would come up with a variety of recommendations, precisely because, like everyone else, they value the risks differently. But instead, public-health pontificators have tried to guard their authority with an ersatz sheen of unanimity.

Getting local officials like Bowser and the Brookline brain trust to relax their rules is the easy part. The herd behavior among experts that Dougherty describes also applies to politicians, so as officials in one jurisdiction began to ease restrictions, public pressure on leaders in other jurisdictions to follow suit will grow. The tricky task is getting individual people to trade their new hypercautious post-pandemic “lifestyle” for pre-pandemic normalcy — to the extent that any of us care, I mean. If some random joe wants to go on wearing masks forever even after mandates have been lifted, it’s no cost to any of us who don’t. But the hypercautious holdouts are an odd mirror image of the vaccine-resisters, the blue-state answer to red-state zealotry in the COVID culture war. Vaccine-resisters are more dangerous than forever-maskers since their refusal to get vaccinated could potentially exact a cost from others. But in both cases you have groups that have talked themselves into ignoring the science because the psychological benefit they get from defying orthodoxy means more to them.


Here’s Jonathan Reiner countering Biden’s talking point last week about having a patriotic duty to wear a mask. Once you’ve gotten vaxxed, you’ve done your duty, says Reiner.

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