Scott Gottlieb: This new L.A. mask mandate is a bad idea

Like I said last night, at best the new mandate is the equivalent of an air-raid siren to alert the population that the spread of the Delta variant will reach crisis proportions if something isn’t done.

But even on those terms, it’s hard to justify. The unvaccinated are all-in on taking their chances with the virus no matter how alarmed the experts seem. And the vaccinated follow COVID news closely and were probably already masking up as a precaution. So, really, the mandate is best understood as bureaucratic CYA. Local health bureaucrats know they’re in for a nasty wave no matter what and they want to be able to say they did everything they could to try to avert it once it happens.

But will it backfire by discouraging persuadable holdouts from getting vaccinated? Gottlieb thinks it will. I’m more skeptical given the cacophony of messaging right now that the vaccine is your only real defense against Delta.

Some scoffed at the new mandate last night on grounds that L.A. County is currently seeing only a tiny fraction of the cases it suffered during the worst of the winter wave. That’s true, but Delta surges happen quickly. One month ago to the day, the UK recorded a little more than 9,000 cases nationally. Yesterday they were over 48,000, more than five times that number and equivalent per capita to 250,000 cases in the U.S.:

If you think that curve is steep, have a look at what the Netherlands is going through. Two weeks ago they were under a thousand cases per day. Yesterday? Nearly 11,000.

That’s an India-style overnight mega-surge with no end in sight at the moment. The Dutch have done a respectable job with vaccinations too, fully immunizing 43 percent of their population, just a few points behind the U.S.

The important caveat there and in the UK is that neither country is seeing a major surge in deaths. In fact, in the Netherlands the national average is just one death per day. (Because the surge in cases has happened so quickly, most of the newly infected haven’t had time yet to develop severe cases that may end in death.) If you want to see what kind of damage Delta can do to a country where few people have been fully vaccinated — less than 14 percent at last check — gaze at the trend in deaths in Russia:

Russia’s true death toll from COVID is vastly higher than the official death toll so God only knows what the actual number of daily deaths is.

L.A. County has a high-ish vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent immunized, but I think the local experts are looking at the UK, Netherlands, and Russian numbers and imagining what the worst-case scenario for their unvaccinated population might be as Delta spreads. Even with younger patients naturally well equipped to fend off infection without help, in theory the surge in cases could be so massive that hospitals end up under stress again from the small fraction who need ER care. So they’re checking the first box of precautions by asking everyone to mask up indoors.

Next, I assume, will be reinstating capacity limits on businesses to try to keep people distanced. Hoo boy.

Or maybe they’re going to play hardball by mandating vaccine passports? Macron just did that in France and, well, it’s having the desired effect:

France is famously vaccine-skeptical but they’re now approaching the U.S. in terms of the share of their population that’s received a first dose. Congrats to Americans everywhere on turning out to be more anti-vax as a people than the g-ddamned French.

I’ll leave you with one more clip of Gottlieb. He’s anti-mask-mandate but pro-vaccine-passport, which is understandable given his worries about incentives. If the goal is to get holdouts vaccinated, the vaccine passport encourages it while the mask mandate arguably does the opposite.