Bill Maher: Why won't blue states recognize that the pandemic is over?

“I travel in every state now, back on the road, and the red states are a joy and the blue states are a pain in the ass. For no reason,” he told his panelists, who included Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, on Friday. I wonder if the situation that’s developing in New York City might steer more Dems around to Maher’s position that they’ve gone too far on COVID precautions. Firehouses are being shuttered there because the city can’t convince a minority of firefighters to get vaxxed before today’s mandate deadline. Desperate to make up that shortfall, they’re now resorting to calling for volunteers from around the state to fill the gap.


NYC has issued a state-wide call for firefighters from both Long Island and Upstate New York as one-third of city firefighters remain unvaccinated ahead of the November 1 deadline, leaving 26 firehouses shuttered.

About 72 percent of FDNY workers have been vaccinated ahead of the November 1 deadline, meaning that up to 4,000 workers may be terminated from the department.

The message was sent through email as nearly 350 potential volunteer firefighters were tagged.

‘Good morning all,’ the email read. ‘We need to start identifying members of the service who are active volunteer firemen in both Long Island and Upstate counties in anticipation of the impending shortage for the FDNY due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

How does the public react when a building in New York burns to the ground this week because the FDNY was stretched too thin to respond promptly? “Almost 80 percent of U.S. adults have at least one shot! When can we conclude that while we would prefer that everyone got vaccinated, those who have not gotten vaccinated are not a menace to the rest of us?” asked Jim Geraghty today. “When will cities be willing to recognize that natural immunity from infection ought to be a part of these discussions as well?” Maher makes the same point about natural immunity, as you’ll see.

Don’t rule out the possibility that the city will win (or mostly win) its game of chicken with anti-vax firefighters, though. The vax mandate on public servants imposed by Bill de Blasio’s administration has seen a lot of movement towards compliance with the clock ticking down. The NYPD went from 75 percent vaccinated to 84 percent in a week. Sanitation went from 67 percent to 76 percent. Even the FDNY has seen a major surge in vaccination, from 69 percent of its employees being immunized to 77 percent *in a single day,* Friday. I wonder if there were similarly large leaps on Saturday and Sunday that we’ll learn about this afternoon.


If 90+ percent of workers in each city agency end up getting vaxxed and the city extends a grace period to the remaining holdouts to get their shots in the next week, say, with no long-term employment consequences, maybe the pressure on the refuseniks to conform will get NYC to a 95 percent rate among public employees. That would be a strong result.

But not a result that conflicts with Maher’s takeaway that blue states are over-cautious. To the contrary, Maher’s point is that mandatory vaccination should mean the end of mandatory restrictions. If you’re going to force adults to get the shot and offer seniors a booster for extra protection, they should be encouraged to return to normal. That’s their reward for doing the responsible thing.

Which is not to say that Democrats would heed that encouragement. Ross Douthat wondered a few weeks ago how risk-averse liberals will ever acclimate themselves to endemic COVID:

As we saw after Sept. 11, certain forms of security theater, once established, become extremely difficult to dislodge as long as there is still any arguable threat. So as long as Covid stays in the news, it’s not hard to envision masking requirements for airplanes and trains persisting far into the future, much as we still try to foil Al Qaeda by taking off our shoes for airport security lines. It’s also possible to imagine a future in which the weird emergent norm of “masks for the help but not the V.I.P.s” — visible everywhere from the Met Gala to political fund-raisers to posh hotels — becomes an expected feature of life among the blue-state upper class (as well as a potent symbol for its critics)…

If certain forms of Republican insouciance about Covid are forged in the fires of cultural resentment, in which you reject Faucian micromanagement by ditching masks and refusing the vaccine, certain forms of liberal overregulation seem forged in fear of red American contagion — in which we just have to mask our kids indefinitely, even though many other developed countries aren’t doing it, because we need to set an example of seriousness to shame all those red-state anti-maskers.


It’s not just mutual cultural resentment that’ll keep liberals playing it safe, though. It’s data like this:

Redder counties reliably see higher death rates from COVID than blue ones do. Maybe that’s because their vaccination rates are lower or maybe it’s because their antipathy to COVID restrictions is leading to more transmission. Anti-mandate Republicans like Ron DeSantis have argued lately that vaccine mandates aimed at reducing transmission don’t make sense because vaccinated people are still infecting others. That’s true, but if the vaccines aren’t highly effective at preventing transmission it means that a county that wants to hold cases down has to do more than just ramp up vaccinations. Scroll through the list of U.S. states ranked by cases of COVID per capita and you’ll find that only two of the top 25 are reliably blue (Rhode Island and Delaware). Three more are swing states that went narrowly for Biden last fall. Fully 20 of the top 25 are red. Data like that is going to keep Democrats resisting Maher’s logic even after the U.S. has seen its last major wave.

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