Mask mandates are making a comeback in America and most of us are very unhappy about it. We should be. Even with the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus, masks simply aren’t necessary.
The best mitigation strategy against the pandemic has always been vaccines. Before vaccines became widely available, masking up, social distancing, and other disease prevention strategies made sense for some people.
But now that 160 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and the vaccines are in every pharmacy, doctor’s office, and county health facility in the nation, forcing people to wear masks becomes nothing more than tribal signaling.
If officials are more concerned with health than with partisan signals—and they should be—then the era of the mask mandate must come to and end. When vaccines were unavailable and even medical experts did not understand the circumstances under which the infected were most likely to transmit the disease, widespread mask usage was likely useful in certain indoor settings, though even then it was probably driven “by factors other than mandates.” But the vaccines change the calculation. If you’re a fully vaccinated adult, you don’t need the mask. And if you’re an unvaccinated adult, you also don’t need the mask—you need to get vaccinated. (If you’re a kid, COVID-19 poses very, very little risk to your health.)
Wearing a mask tells everyone that you are conspicuously following the advice of the CDC, Democrats, and other authoritarians. Ordinarily, no one would give a fig if you did. So the mask becomes an important self-justifying signal of support for an ideology.
What makes that so silly is how unnecessary it is.
Theoretically, if there are places in the country where vaccine rates are very low, people who obstinately refuse to become vaccinated might get some small benefit out of widespread mask usage. But in practice, people who don’t want to get the vaccine are unlikely to follow the other, more annoying mitigation strategies. On the contrary, the places that are most likely to reintroduce mask mandates and see widespread compliance are places where vaccination rates are very high.
Vaccination should not be thought of as just one tool among many: It is the tool. The masks are an insult to this life-saving, pandemic-crushing medical innovation.
Masks are also an insult to the intelligence of the American people. Forcing people to wear masks presupposes they’re too stupid to know how best to protect themselves and their families. This point of view is prevalent not just among leftists, but also elitists on the right.
The choice of whether or not to wear a mask or get the vaccine is a personal one. We don’t need protection from ourselves for any reason, even if some of us believe in nutty conspiracies and ludicrous science. Mask mandates need to be tossed on the rubbish pile of history and forgotten.