Scott Gottlieb: No, we don't need to bring back mask mandates everywhere because of the Delta variant

Yeah, I think we might be done with mask “mandates” for the rest of the summer at least. People would resent them at this point and they don’t seem to do much to increase compliance, so why bother?

Mask recommendations, on the other hand, are another story.

Gottlieb makes a smart point in arguing to go easy with mandates for the time being. If we tell people to mask up now in hopes of preventing the spread of the B.1.617 Delta variant, at a moment when cases are rock bottom in most places in the U.S., no one will heed a similar warning this fall if and when we see another true wave of COVID. Gotta pick your spots. For now, in states and cities where transmission is low, hold off on masking until there’s clear evidence of a surge. Save the prophylactic masking for when the virus is prevalent again.

Which I guess is his way of warning people to expect another round of mandates later this year.

Why is Gottlieb so chill about the threat from Delta? It’s probably because he’s watching the numbers in the UK and recognizing that the vaccines have succeeded at protecting the people who were most likely to end up in the hospital if infected:

It’s a “casedemic” of Delta over there so far, as I explained last night. Whereas one in six hospital beds were occupied by COVID patients during England’s winter wave, now just one in 100 are. In fact, the scare from Delta may counterintuitively end up leaving more Americans safe from COVID than otherwise would have been the case. That’s because fear of the variant seems to have inspired a surge in vaccinations:

Mask mandates won’t do much to contain the most transmissible known strain of the virus. Vaccinations will. Looks like the heavy media coverage of B.1.617 over the past month is bringing holdouts down off the fence.

Of course, there’s always a chance that Delta itself will mutate into something more fearsome and vaccine-resistant…

Whether the emergence of an even more dangerous variant would be met with new lockdowns and social-distancing restrictions is anyone’s guess. In blue states, probably. In red states, no — although even red states could bring back mask mandates, if only as a way of signaling to the public that we’ve entered another dangerous phase of the pandemic and it’s time to be careful again.

For now, though, public health experts are trying to play it cool, not wanting to undersell the vaccines by suggesting they’re not enough to hold off Delta on their own when the data shows that they are. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC this morning that no, there’s no need for vaccinated people to wear masks while attending a baseball game — although there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing so to provide yourself a tiny bit of extra protection:

I think that’ll be the message from him, Rochelle Walensky, and other experts after July 4, when everyone’s had the big party they’ve been anticipating for so long. No mask mandates (unless the Delta surge gets bad), no change to the official CDC guidance encouraging vaccinated people to unmask, just a soft “y’know, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if even the vaccinated wore masks and avoided crowds” nudge. That’ll be their way of urging precautions without urging them so forcefully that they risk convincing vaccine holdouts that getting vaxxed won’t do much to protect them from Delta.

Of course, there are other major players in the pandemic for whom no amount of vaccinations and precautions will be enough to sufficiently limit the risk. This is ominous:

I sense that “adapting” will mean many more months of remote learning for America’s public-school students this fall.

I’ll leave you with this new Budweiser ad, which captures the spirit of the moment. Americans are going to enjoy their Fourth after 16 months of misery, with the virus having been contained for now. And I think the experts know it, which is why they’re holding off on the usual abundance-of-caution messaging. It won’t work. Save it for after the party. By the way, when you’re celebrating this weekend, spare a thought for the fact that you’re fortunate enough to live in a country where protection from a deadly disease is readily available. Not everyone is so lucky.