Jim Acosta: Maybe we should start calling Delta the "DeSantis variant"

A reminder that there’s no line on CNN between news and commentary. Fox still retains a few anchors on the news side like Bret Baier and Bill Hemmer who play it straight. But on Jeff Zucker’s network, the only regular I can think of who doesn’t opine overtly on the news they’re covering is Wolf Blitzer.

Acosta’s brief rant here reminds me of an old-school Keith Olbermann “special comment” with the volume dialed down to a three instead of a 10.

Oddly, I don’t recall CNN ever referring to New York’s ferocious outbreak in March 2020 as the “Cuomonavirus,” even after what came out about Cuomo’s horrendous mismanagement of the pandemic. It’d be awkward to coin a term like that when the guy anchoring your 9 p.m. hour is also named “Cuomo,” admittedly, but if we’re going to start renaming aspects of America’s COVID misery after politicians, that game starts with Chris’s brother.

In fact, New York is still second in deaths per capita among all U.S. states despite having experienced the worst of their outbreak 16 months ago. DeSantis’s Florida is 26th, below the national average.

Will Jim retain this naming convention when, not if, Delta sweeps through highly vaccinated blue states this fall and winter too? Part of the reason Florida and Texas are doing badly right now is the virus’s seasonality, I suspect. The south had bad waves last summer too as high temperatures drove people indoors, where the virus spreads. That dynamic will change in a few months as the weather cools.

By November, the “DeSantis variant” will probably have become the “Cuomo variant.” Or the “Hochul variant,” I should say, since you-know-who will hopefully be unemployed by then.

Jim won’t be using that term, though.

Apart from simple partisan interests, I assume the impulse behind Acosta wanting to blame DeSantis for his state’s outbreak has to do with the ban he signed on local mandates, particularly mask mandates. But it’s a cinch that many more Floridians are masking up voluntarily now as frightening news about the spread of Delta in their state continues to churn. We need data on that. What share of state residents was masking last year, when they were under mandates, versus what share is masking now that they aren’t? I’d bet the rates are comparable, if not actually higher at the moment due to Delta jitters. There’s plenty of evidence dating back to last March that mandates don’t strongly influence compliance, but that inconvenient fact comes second to the need to score a political point on DeSantis.

There is an argument that masks are more useful, not less, with a super-contagious variant spreading. Tyler Cowen:

We do know that the viral load from Delta is much higher. That could make masks less effective, because perhaps they cannot stop the spewer from spreading the virus so easily. (Oddly, you don’t see many people admitting such an effect might be possible, as this seems to be a politically incorrect idea to present.)

Yet there is a countervailing factor. The Delta variant spreads far more rapidly than “classic Covid.” So a given “small effect” of a mask is more important. It used to be that a mask (sometimes) stopped the spread to one person, who in turn might spread to 1.3 others. Now, if your mask stops the spread to that person, it might be stopping the subsequent spread to seven other people (we don’t know the exact number, but yes I have heard “seven” bandied around as a possibility).

To be clear, in this scenario masks are still less effective than before in preventing Covid spread. But the rate of return on wearing a mask, relative to no mask, can be higher.

That’s a good case for voluntary masking but not a case that local mandates will increase mask-wearing. DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates also applies to schools, which I’m sure is also objectionable to Acosta. But given the low risk of serious illness to kids, there are also good arguments that parents should make the decision on whether to mask their children rather than have students under orders to mask universally. Doctors Marty Makary and Cody Meissner have a piece in the WSJ today making the case against masks for kids:

In March, Ireland’s Department of Health announced that it won’t require masks in schools because they “may exacerbate anxiety or breathing difficulties for some students.” Some children compensate for such difficulties by breathing through their mouths. Chronic and prolonged mouth breathing can alter facial development. It is well-documented that children who mouth-breathe because adenoids block their nasal airways can develop a mouth deformity and elongated face.

The possible psychological harm of widespread masking is an even greater worry. Facial expressions are integral to human connection, particularly for young children, who are only learning how to signal fear, confusion and happiness. Covering a child’s face mutes these nonverbal forms of communication and can result in robotic and emotionless interactions, anxiety and depression. Seeing people speak is a building block of phonetic development. It is especially important for children with disabilities such as hearing impairment…

In the absence of data, mask mandates have ignited a culture war. Yet if masks do reduce asymptomatic transmission in children, they likely rank no higher than fourth among mitigation strategies that schools can adopt, after ventilation, distancing and dividing students into small groups known as pods. Mandatory vaccination of all teachers and other adults who lack natural immunity—which teachers unions have vigorously opposed—would also help.

The soundest criticism of DeSantis’s “no mandates” policy is captured by the final sentence there. Mandating precautions like masks, which is what lefties like Acosta are hung up on, is hard to defend in a country where half the population is vaccinated and vaccines are freely available to any adult who wants one. Mandating vaccinations in professions where workers routinely encounter people who are either unvaccinated or have weaker immunity, like teachers or hospital workers, is more sensible. DeSantis is resisting that because he doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of the hardcore anti-vax segment of the GOP’s populist base. He should reconsider.

Here’s Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana politely disagreeing with him on whether local governments should have the authority to mandate public health precautions. I wrote about that dilemma last week. Conservatives philosophically favor local policymaking, but in the case of school mask mandates those local policies may harm some children. What’s a Republican governor to do?