White House on potential for new lockdowns: We'll follow the guidance from the CDC, whatever it is

White House on potential for new lockdowns: We'll follow the guidance from the CDC, whatever it is

What a terrible answer to a not very difficult question. Bad enough that the teachers unions are suddenly hedging about reopening schools again. Now we’ve got the feds refusing to take new lockdowns off the table.

By the way, why isn’t Psaki substitute Karine Jean-Pierre wearing a mask here?

Let me see if I can do better. How’s this for an answer: “The White House can’t order lockdowns, Peter. Only state governors can.” That would be a dodge, and might draw a follow-up about whether the White House would recommend lockdowns, but at least it would calm Americans who are suspicious of a Democratic administration’s fondness for pandemic restrictions by reassuring them that Joe Biden can’t shut anything that’s under a state’s jurisdiction.

A more ambitious (and riskier) answer would have been to point reporters to what’s happening in the UK and say that the White House is cautiously optimistic that America’s Delta wave will recede sooner than people expect. That would leave Biden open to shots from Republicans if our wave ends up being worse than expected (and might get people wondering why the CDC changed the mask guidance if the feds expect the current surge to fade soon), but a little optimism from the Oval Office is never a bad thing. The daily caseload in Britain has dropped by half in the span of a week despite epidemiologists expecting it to double, triple, or even quadruple near term. Scientists are debating why. It could be a temporary blip due to Euro 2020 watch parties having ended…

…or it could be an artifact of Brits dodging testing lately. (“[I]f they test positive, even if they are fully vaccinated, they are asked to quarantine for 10 days, even if they are about to travel abroad for their holidays.”) But it could also be evidence of the UK reaching a degree of herd immunity that’s left the virus with relatively few people still vulnerable to infection. If that’s true over there, it might be true over here. In which case the only way we’d need lockdowns again is if some entirely new immune-escape variant comes along that punctures everyone’s immunity and puts us back at square one.

But even if a super-variant were dropped on us, lockdowns still probably aren’t happening. People are sick of them and governors are tired of taking political heat for ordering them. There’s no question that businesses would be wrecked if a vaccine-resistant strain emerged, but not because of stay-at-home orders. It’s because the risk-averse half of the population would isolate at home, crushing consumer demand. (At least until Pfizer and Moderna cranked out updated vaccines targeting the new variant.) Jean-Pierre could have noted that, but … what a bummer scenario to contemplate.

So long as we live in a world where Delta is the worst thing we’re facing with respect to COVID, lockdowns are morally untenable. You can’t tell a business owner to close down in the name of protecting people who are vulnerable to COVID by choice, which is what America’s facing with respect to the unvaccinated adult population. If you do then you’re granting the least responsible actors of the pandemic veto power over the livelihoods of employers and their workers. Even if deaths soared from Delta cases (which isn’t unthinkable, as 20 percent of senior citizens are still unvaccinated), there are measures that could and would be taken short of lockdowns to try to limit infection. The obvious one is more businesses demanding proof of vaccination as a condition of service. Most Americans are on board with that, at least for bars and restaurants:

The more businesses started requiring vaccine passports, the more pressure there’d be on persuadable vaccine holdouts to take the plunge. So what’s the argument for ordering new lockdowns instead of asking businesses to demand proof of vaccination as a condition of service instead?

And why didn’t Jean-Pierre make that point in the interest of easing lockdown jitters?

Here’s Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill admitting yesterday that he broke down and got vaccinated after the NFL imposed strict new penalties for teams that have outbreaks this coming season. Incentives like vaccine passports won’t work on the most hardcore vaccines holdouts, but they’ll work on a lot of the rest. That’s why we don’t need lockdowns.

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