CNN analyst: Maybe we should require masks and social distancing every winter

Good Lord. Why do people have an urge to transform a light at the end of a long tunnel into an oncoming train? Noting that reported cases of the flu have plummeted while Americans live in quasi-quarantine and businesses get prevented from operating, one CNN analyst (update: Dr. Paul Offit, pediatrician and epidemiologist) on New Day suggests this should be our new normal.

This certainly makes me want to tap my toes and greet the morning. How’s about y’all?

Don’t get me wrong; I was an early adopter on masks, even while the CDC discouraged their use. Masks may not be a perfect barrier, but they help in containing viral spread, and lower viral loads even when they don’t entirely prevent transmission. Because my wife is immune suppressed, I have been adamant about social distancing even on my own; I have rarely left the house for anything other than food or medical needs over the last year.

However, I can do that on a voluntary basis without mandating it for everyone, especially over the flu, which is much less transmissible and lethal than COVID-19. How do we know this? Because the same strategy that has all but stamped out the flu this season has not prevented more than 500,000 deaths and 28 million positive tests for COVID-19 in the US. Even a bad flu season doesn’t produce those kinds of numbers. And to get that, we had to wreck economies, put millions out of work, keep children from an effective education, and so on. This strategy does real and long-term damage, which is only outweighed by COVID-19’s high transmissibility and mortality rates.

For those who have particular risks from the flu — such as my wife — masking in public could make sense. It’s no reason to impose it as a mandate on everyone, and requiring the social-distancing schemes we have used this year on a seasonal basis makes no sense in terms of overall risk-reward management. Our friend and physician Pradheep Shanker puts it perfectly:

How about a little common sense? If you have a cold or flu symptoms, don’t go out, or wear a mask over your nose and mouth if you do. If you have vulnerabilities to infection, find some masks you like wearing and put them on while you otherwise live your life. If we embrace anything, we should embrace individual choice and non-hysterical risk management.