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Despite averaging zero daily deaths, D.C. mayor orders new indoor mask mandate starting this weekend

I support her wholeheartedly. Not because of the science, which is an inch thin in this case, but because it tickles me to think of politicians, congressional staffers, lobbyists, and their Beltway media lampreys crestfallen at having to wear a face diaper again.

As Oscar Wilde didn’t quite say, one must have a heart of stone to hear of the governing class being subjected to arbitrary pandemic restrictions without laughing.

I hope Muriel Bowser’s bringing back the ban on dancing at wedding receptions too. That’d be the icing on the cake.

The masking order applies to all Washington residents over the age of … two.

One can only hope that arrests are in order for scofflaws.

How dire is the COVID situation in Washington right now to warrant such a step? Uhhhh…

D.C., a city of 700,000 people, is averaging zero deaths per day. Since June 1, its highest daily death toll is two. And that happened only once.

A big reason is vaccinations. They rank behind only 12 U.S. states when measured by the share of the population that’s fully vaccinated (54.5 percent). That’s led to them having one of their lowest rates of hospitalization right now of the entire pandemic:

By some measures, they have their fewest COVID hospitalizations ever at the moment. The blue line here is 2020, orange is 2021:

The only metric where they’re seeing some meaningful worsening is cases, where they’ve gone from 1.5 per 100,000 residents each day at the end of June to 8.3 per 100,000 today. To put that in perspective, cases reached 45.7 per 100K at the height of the winter wave and are still sufficiently low to give Washington a positivity rate of just 2.6 percent.

So why is Bowser ordering masks? Because: The CDC considers 50 new cases per 100,000 people each week the threshold of “substantial” transmission that should trigger indoor masking and Washington has now — barely — crossed that line. In fact, the other metric used by the CDC to measure “substantial” transmission is a positivity rate between eight percent and 9.9 percent each day for seven days, a number which D.C. isn’t remotely near.

The charitable view of a new mask mandate, then, is that Bowser is getting out in front of an expected surge in transmissions and ultimately death by taking precautions before the crisis arrives. That was the lesson of San Francisco last spring, when the mayor issued a stay-at-home order before cases had begun to explode. On the opposite coast, the leaders of New York City twiddled their thumbs for weeks before following suit. You know what happened next. But there’s an obvious difference between what San Fran did then and what D.C.’s doing now — a stay-at-home order might logically reduce transmissions considerably while there’s no reason to think a mask mandate will do the same. We’ve been over that evidence before. Top-down masking orders don’t do much to change behavior, information about a rising risk from COVID locally does. The great majority of people who’ll be masking up following Bowser’s order were going to be masking up anyway after having been spooked by the Delta news.

The less charitable view is that this is some combination of CYA and tribal virtue-signaling. The CDC says masks are called for, even among vaccinated people, when a city is seeing “substantial” transmission and so that’s what Bowser’s going to do, logic be damned. If locals they don’t like it, they can blame the feds. All she’s doing is Following The Science. Even though, as I write this at 3 p.m. ET, we still don’t know what the science is behind the recent guidance.