Covid-19’s latest resurgence means we are stuck, unable to escape our national squabbling about masks and shots, mandates and protocols. We are about to restart a particularly bitter battle over public travel — what to do about trains, planes, boats, buses and subways.
The travel issue seems to have no chance at resolution. It’s public health 101 re-worked into the same old tiresome political shout-fest of right versus left, individual freedom versus social responsibility, I don’t have to clean my room versus yes you do. If I believe my wearing a mask helps only you, not me, either because I am already vaccinated or I think the whole Covid-19 thing is overblown, how should I behave? Is the masked life worth living?
You bet it is. But the actual science is real and it’s spectacularly in opposition to Senator Cruz’s Rambo claims. Indeed, there is scientific data galore that demonstrates risk when using public transportation and additional data that supports masks and distancing.
Because of the quality of the data available (it helps to have a surveillance state for a public-health investigation), the authors were able to quantify the risks of infection depending on where you sat on the train and how long you rode.
The science is clear: public travel increases your risk. Yes, it’s true that air filtration and circulation on various forms of transportation aren’t exactly the same as on a high-speed train from China. And the China study was conducted before the Delta variant took hold. But the fact remains: sitting next to a Covid- infected person carries risk, and the longer you are seatmates, the higher the risk.
The push to pressure the CDC to lift mask restrictions is likely borne not of a desire to follow the science, but rather to make experts across the government seem indecisive, as if changing recommendations were the product of a bloated bureaucracy that only knows how to send weaselly memos. It’s a familiar refrain: big government is screwing up again!
This latest “discussion” about restrictions is completely irrelevant at this moment in the pandemic. After so many arguments and so many lives lost, there is only one salient fact and it is not debatable.
Vaccination works. Refusal to be vaccinated is endangering the health and well-being of the public. We are at a moment of historic cruelty, when some Republicans are deliberately scaring people away from a medical breakthrough that will save their lives. And this, not the pandemic itself or the scientific response to it, likely will be what historians puzzle over in the decades ahead.