Bill Maher: The Pandemic is Over

Denial, whining, and truth wrapped into one segment.

Some good news on the health front from the noted epidemiologist Bill Maher:

“Real Time” host Bill Maher railed against ongoing COVID restrictions, declaring the pandemic “over.”

Maher kicked off the show’s panel discussion Friday night by expressing relief that Dr. Anthony Fauci has given the green light on Halloween since it’s been Maher’s “position since the beginning of this.”

“Just resume living,” Maher told his audience. “I know some people seem to not want to give up on the wonderful pandemic, but you know what? It’s over. There’s always going to be a variant. You shouldn’t have to wear masks. I should be to … I haven’t had a meeting with my staff since March of 2020. Why?”

“Also, vaccine, mask, pick one! You’ve got to pick. You can’t make me mask if I’ve had the vaccine,” Maher added.

The Atlantic staff writer Caitlin Flanagan told Maher she had “broken up with COVID” after the first year of the pandemic, comparing it to an “abusive” boyfriend.

“And I got the vaccine. I walked out of the CVS. I hadn’t been that thrilled coming out of the drugstore since I got the birth control pill in 1981,” Flanagan quipped. “I’ve had cancer. I’m triple vaxxed. If it gets me, fair play to it because it will put up a fight against me but I’m not staying in my house again.”

Maher then pressed his guest, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., since “it’s the Democrats” that keep enforcing COVID restrictions.

“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 a–. For no reason,” Maher said.

“One of the critical things that’s being discussed right now by President Biden, one of the things we have to recommit ourselves to, is supporting vaccination around the rest of the world,” Coons responded. “There’s still a lot of countries that are very, very minimally vaccinated because if a variant develops out in the world that is able to defeat the vaccine, we are all the way back to the beginning. So in the United States, in most of the western world, we’re ready to be done with this, but we’re not done until the world is safe and we’re not safe as a world until the world’s vaccinated.”

“Except the world recognizes natural immunity. We don’t,” Maher pushed back, “because everything in this country has to go through the pharmaceutical companies. Natural immunity is the best kind of immunity. We shouldn’t fire people who have natural immunity because they don’t get the vaccine. We should hire them. Yes?”

“If someone is having tested with antibodies,” Coons conceded.

“Well, OK. But you know, people who’ve had it – I’ve had it,” Maher said. “I mean, I shouldn’t be tested anymore. I got the vaccine.”

“And if someone’s willing to be a fireman, if someone’s willing to be a policeman, if someone’s willing to go into a burning building and says, ‘I’m just not that afraid of COVID and I don’t want to take the vaccine,’ that should be enough,” Flanagan interjected. “You shouldn’t be losing a job, you shouldn’t be furloughed without pay, the guy that saves lives because he doesn’t want to take the vaccine. It’s ridiculous.”

The HBO star complained about the “messaging” regarding COVID, pointing to people he had seen outside “alone walking with a mask,” stressing “it’s so stupid.”

“It’s an amulet, you know? A charm people wear around the neck that wards away evil spirits. It means nothing,” Maher said. “I mean, can’t we get people to understand the facts more?”

So, here are some facts.

Daily COVID-19 cases in the USA over time:

To my eye, it looks much worse now than when we shut the whole damn country down in the spring of 2020. Indeed, while not as bad as it was during last fall’s peak—the vaccine is clearly helping—it’s pretty damn bad.

But, James, you’ll rightly note, the main point of the vaccine is to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. So, sure, people are still getting infected but they’re not getting all that sick.

Alas, not so much:

As many Americans are dying every day as they were during the initial wave. Again, we’re way off the pre-vaccine peak. But, then again, we already killed off 700,000+ of our most vulnerable population, so the numbers were bound to decline.

And Flannagan’s argument regarding firefighters is just silly. Unvaccinated people aren’t just risking their own lives, they’re risking others. I mean, sure, if I were in a burning building I would gladly take the risk that the rescuing firefighter gives me COVID over that of dying from burns or asphyxiation from the smoke. But I’d prefer that he just get the goddamn shot.

Similarly, while I fully agree with Maher that it makes little sense for fully vaccinated people to wear masks—and that people walking around outdoors in non-crowded spaces or driving around by themselves in their car wearing masks are being absurd—the fact of the matter is that there’s no way to know who’s vaccinated or not from a distance. So, I tend to just go ahead and put on a mask when I go into a grocery store or restaurant because it provides some assurance to others that I’m not intentionally putting them in danger.

Still, Maher and Flannagan have something of a point. This virus may well never go away. It’s simply unrealistic to expect people to live under pandemic protocols indefinitely when highly effective vaccines are readily available.

I don’t know the situation with Maher’s staff and, frankly, it’s not obvious why they can’t write jokes and invite guests remotely from now until the end of time. But I work in a university setting where essentially everyone is already fully vaccinated (we have maybe 3 outliers out of 250-odd students, faculty, and staff) and are under Presidential order to get to 100 percent in the near future. Yet we’re all wearing masks unless we’re in private offices. It really seems more performance than protocol at this point.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Franklin says:

    I haven’t much attention to Maher since, well, ever. But does he not do subtlety? Or is he just an entertainer, happy to get a few more mouth breathing viewers to share his clip?

    So far as I know, we’re still trying to protect the immunocompromised and elderly people who have a significant risk of death even when vaccinated. And WHY do they still have a significant risk? Because of idiots who are eligible for the vaccine and haven’t got it. The idiots who are difficult to identify walking around in public! So don’t blame the restrictions on the people making them. Blame it on the anti-vaxxers.

    Obviously there is some point where we deal with a reasonable risk. Thoughtful people can argue about when that is, and check whether the science backs up the claims of people who have “natural immunity”. I personally don’t think we are there yet.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    Maher positions himself as a serious funny man. I have never found him either serious or funny. He comes across as just another loudmouth who spent 2 seconds coming up with a hot take and then defends it at full obnoxious volume no matter what. The last time I watched him (and this was many, many years ago) his show consisted of a bunch of Hollywood actors, talking heads and B-list comedians sitting around blabbering on about their opinions on world events. They weren’t funny and absent that, I couldn’t think of a group of people whose opinions I could care less about.

  3. Mimai says:

    Maher said:

    I haven’t had a meeting with my staff since March of 2020. Why?

    Why indeed. Certainly his staff has met via videoconferencing, no?

    Ok, that’s uncharitable (it’s hard to be otherwise when discussing Maher, but I should do better). I suspect he meant that they haven’t met in person. But again, why not?

    I believe his show is set in LA. As far as I can tell, there are no state or local prohibitions against holding in-person business meetings. There are guidelines for reducing risk, but no outright prohibitions. Perhaps I’m mistaken.

    On a personal note, I’m very much bothered by the fact that I wrote a comment about Maher.

  4. Michael Cain says:

    Colorado has quietly reached the point where the ICU beds have run out statewide. (My county has been at 100-112% capacity for ICU for some weeks now.) The governor is considering any or all of: (1) requesting additional staff from FEMA; (2) a temporary halt on cosmetic and elective surgeries; (3) crisis standards of care (ie, triage access to the ICUs); (4) restrictions on patient transfers; and (5) stepped-up use of monoclonal antibody treatments outside the hospitals.

    As near as I can tell from the statistics in my county, what has happened is that the number of new Covid patients admitted to hospitals daily has stayed constant, but the patients are staying in hospital, and in ICUs, for longer periods of time.

  5. Thomm says:

    Oh…a long term anti-vaxer is spouting anti-vaccine talking points? Who woulda thunk it?

  6. gVOR08 says:

    So, I tend to just go ahead and put on a mask when I go into a grocery store or restaurant because it provides some assurance to others that I’m not intentionally putting them in danger.

    Indeed. Thank you. It’s a simple courtesy. (That, and 90% or whatever =/= 100%.)

    As to Maher and his “natural immunity” and the NYC firefighters of the other post who claim they already had COVID, so add a vaccination to that. What’s the problem?

  7. liberal capitalist says:

    Maher said:

    Natural immunity is the best kind of immunity. We shouldn’t fire people who have natural immunity because they don’t get the vaccine.

    I wonder how it feels to literally pontificate to his audience… and then the very next day be proven absolutely wrong:

    Vaccination against Covid-19 provides stronger protection than immunity from a previous infection with the coronavirus, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Friday.

    The study looked at more than 7,000 people hospitalized with Covid-like illnesses, and found that those who were unvaccinated — but had a previous case of the illness — were five times more likely to have a confirmed case of Covid than people who were fully vaccinated and had not had Covid before.


    And, while I likely know the answer, has he issued a retraction?

    That guy. Putz.

  8. CSK says:

    To be fair to Maher, if he’s the person to whom you’re referring, he claims to have been vaxxed.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Still, Maher and Flannagan have something of a point.

    Yeah, they’re idiots. They may be intelligent idiots, but if they aren’t smart enough to know when they are being stupid, they are idiots.

    Yet we’re all wearing masks unless we’re in private offices. It really seems more performance than protocol at this point.

    Yes. Like all things people do, it is performative. You are performing an act that keeps others safe.

    I just got another *covid test* ahead of surgery even tho I am fully vaxed. Why? because there are breakthrough infections (my oldest sis just got over one) and some people are asymptomatic. Did I complain? Well yeah, a little bit, but only about how uncomfortable the test is, not about the necessity of it. Do I like wearing a mask? No, but maybe it saves a life or spares someone long covid. It’s not some unbearable infringement upon my freedom, it’s just a very small thing I do to help protect my family and neighbors.

  10. Thomm says:

    @CSK: Still doesn’t change the fact that a person who has a history of pushing vaccine/autism lies for years is, unsurprisingly, spouting anti vaccine talking points.

  11. Kylopod says:

    @liberal capitalist: There was one study out of Israel suggesting that having Covid provides stronger protection against the virus than getting the vaccine. Anti-vaxxers point to that study as the definitive proof of what they’re saying and ignore all the other studies that have reached the opposite conclusion. Furthermore, even that study suggested that vaccine + natural immunity provides the strongest protection of all; i.e. it’s always better to get the vaccine.

    Yet even if we ignore all that, what Maher said is still grossly irresponsible because it encourages people to do what Prager claims to have done, which is try to get the virus in order to create natural immunity. Even if it were true that natural immunity provides the strongest protection against the virus, it wouldn’t change the fact that being sick with Covid is vastly more dangerous than getting the vaccine, both in terms of the death rate as well as the long-Covid symptoms that many people who had Covid nearly two years ago are still suffering the effects of.

  12. wr says:

    Ah, Caitlin Flanagan, the pundit for wannabe libertarians who find Megan McArdle too intellectually demanding. No surprise that she and Maher hit it off so well — if you’re a libertarian, of course Florida is a better place than those horrible blue states. There are no pandemic restrictions on you at all, and the only price to pay is thousands of people dying in agony. But since those people aren’t you, it’s all good!

    (I’m ashamed to admit I once knew Caitlin Flanagan, and missed my chance to set her straight. But she’s two years younger than me and it’s really tough to have an intelligent political conversation when you’re five and the other person is only three.) (Our fathers taught together in the Berkeley English department…)

  13. Kurtz says:


    a long term anti-vaxer is spouting anti-vaccine talking points? Who woulda thunk it?

    For some people, it’s not about vax or anti-vax specifically. It’s about a broader view.

    It’s like the person who conspicuously only listens to bands no one has ever heard of, and conspicuously announces disdain for anything that has ever been played on the radio. It’s pretty clear it’s less about taste than it is about _____ signaling.

    Over the past year, I’ve been accused of being a corporate shill AND of being Che.

    People can be frustrating.

  14. Hal_10000 says:

    To my eye, it looks much worse now than when we shut the whole damn country down in the spring of 2020.

    It isn’t. In spring of 2020, testing was minimal and we were probably catching 1 in 10 cases. Now, it’s probably closer to half to two-thirds. Deaths are a better if still imperfect metric.

  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    I don’t wear a mask at home or in the car, but I put one on when I get out of the car and walk into public spaces. The value of this in protecting me and/or the people in those public spaces is small, since I’m also vaccinated. However, the cost of this is also small, and I’m willing to take it. And yeah, it’s a sign that “we’re all in this together”, which we are, rather than, “Everyone for themselves, I don’t give a fig about what happens to you” which is the other extreme.

    Mask-wearing is kind of classic collective action.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Colorado has quietly reached the point where the ICU beds have run out statewide. (My county has been at 100-112% capacity for ICU for some weeks now.) The governor is considering any or all of:

    What is he waiting for?

  17. Gustopher says:

    I’m surprised Maher hasn’t gone full Glenn Greenwald / Matt Taibbi yet. He’s always been more annoyed with liberals doing good things wrong than conservatives doing things that are wrong.

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Hal_10000: But deaths are basically the same as then, and we have much better treatments.

    And, if you calculate in the effects of the vaccine, which really is pretty damned effective, despite breakthrough cases, you will see that the deaths per 100,000 unvaccinated is way higher than it was in the first wave (when there were many more unvaccinated because there was no vaccine)

  19. Michael Cain says:


    What is he waiting for?

    We haven’t had the kind of rapid spike that’s made the news in other parts of the country. It was a long slow slope up, then looked like it had plateaued in September, and has only recently started up again. Our vaccination rate is at the bottom of the top third or so, not horrible. Everyone has been hoping that we were on the verge of turning the corner. I expect him to jump by Tuesday or Wednesday.

  20. CSK says:

    I didn’t know that; I don’t watch Maher. Thanks for letting me know.

    No matter how long and how thoroughly that vaccine/autism nonsense gets debunked, it still flourishes.

    I recall Michele Bachmann claiming that a 122-year-old girl “became retarded” after receiving a vaccine.

  21. CSK says:

    Uh, I meant “12-year-old girl.”

  22. Gustopher says:


    I recall Michele Bachmann claiming that a 12-year-old girl “became retarded” after receiving a vaccine.

    Is that what happened to her? She really expects us to believe she wasn’t a crazy idiot before that?

  23. CSK says:

    I don’t know, but Bachmann appears to have been consigned to the dustbin of history even faster than was Sarah Palin.

  24. EddieInCA says:

    Bill Maher is a contrarian…. and a moron. The pandemic is far from over, and we’re about to have a fourth wave.

    Bottom line is that unless more people worldwide get vaccinated, it’s just a matter of time before a new variant takes hold. Russia is already shutting down to to Covid spikes – their fifth.

    Utah is spiking… again.

    Vermont is spiking.. again.

    State numbers

    There were 12 states that reported an increase in new COVID-19 cases for the week that ended Sunday. There were 9 states the previous week.

    Arizona had the largest jump, with a 33 percent increase to 17,848 cases. Oklahoma was next with a nearly 30 percent hike to 7,846 cases.

    Maine reported a 16 percent increase to 3,242 new cases, while Oregon saw a 14 percent jump to 8,760 cases.

    In overall numbers, the CDC reports that Texas had the most new cases in the past 7 days with 28,682, about 2,000 fewer than earlier this week.

    Pennsylvania is a close second with 27,389 new cases this past week, with Michigan right behind with 26,539 new cases.

    New York is fourth with 26,169 cases. Ohio is fifth with 24,684 cases the past 7 days.

    The CDC reports that Alaska remains the leader per capita, each with 682 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 7 days.

    Montana is second with 565 cases per 100,000 residents while Wyoming registered 504 per 100,000.

    Idaho is fourth with 440 cases per 100,000 residents. North Dakota is fifth with 438 cases per 100,000 residents.

    California has the lowest per capita rate at 28 cases per 100,000 residents.

    Here’s a look at those states with the highest per capita caseload and their percentage of fully vaccinated people:

    There were 23 states that reported an increase in COVID-19-related deaths for the week that ended Sunday. There were 18 the previous week.

    For the second straight week, Oklahoma had the highest jump, with an increase of 502 percent to 1,138 deaths. Next was Alaska, with a 224 percent hike to 81 deaths.

    Arizona recorded a 206 percent increase with 362 deaths, while Montana reported a 142 percent increase to 119 deaths.

    Texas recorded the most COVID-19 deaths over the past 7 days with 1,242.

    Georgia is next with 669 deaths, followed by Ohio with 628 deaths, and Pennsylvania with 453 deaths. North Carolina is fifth with 331 deaths this past week.

    Wyoming has the highest death rate per capita with nearly 12 per 100,000 residents. West Virginia is next with almost 9 per 100,000 people followed by Idaho and Montana with slightly more than 7 per 100,000 each.

    California, Florida, New Mexico, and Alabama all have death rates of less than 0.5 per 100,000 people.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I’m really glad that people like Bill Maher live in places where they can call the epidemic over and for the other people who are in places where needing to wear a mask is absurd. Sadly, I live in a state where only 62% of the population have had both shot and in a county where only every other person (~57k of 110k total) is completely vaccinated. The other thing that I will note is that each spike in Covid-19 infection rates has happened as people have said “Whew! The infection rate is down–let’s go to the bar! I’m glad that’s over!”

    Having said my peace, I’ll let you guys all go back to licking doorknobs and whatever. Laissez les bons temps roullez!

  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “The CDC reports that Alaska remains the leader per capita, each with 682 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 7 days.”

    WA! My county’s 14 day data point is 534/100,000 (down from 770 last week). 386 new cases last week. And in the past month, our 2 week data point has been as high as 1100 and change. I’m so relieved that the epidemic is over some places, though. That’s good news.

  27. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    My county’s 14 day data point is 534/100,000 (down from 770 last week). 386 new cases last week. And in the past month, our 2 week data point has been as high as 1100 and change.

    Oh, the pandemic is receding, your cases are way down, from 1100 to 500ish. Phew. Probably safe to start going back into bars.

  28. Stormy Dragon says:


    Maher goes well beyond merely being anti-vaccine, and has in the past rejected the entire germ theory of disease.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Indeed! It’s been a real Godsend.

  30. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:


    There was one study out of Israel suggesting that having Covid provides stronger protection against the virus than getting the vaccine.

    I don’t know. People that caught the virus after Gama or Delta might have good immunity, but there are several stories about people that caught Covid two times. And even if you are infected getting vaccinated provides you with additional protection.

  31. Franklin says:

    @wr: ok, I snorted st your aside.

  32. The Q says:

    You all just prove Maher’s correct. California has a vax rate of 61.3%. What is the hated Florida’s rate????? Any guesses you unhinged neolib mob? Those stupid, Florida trumper rednecks must lag far behind the blue blue hip libs in California right? (putting my finger to my headset earpiece)…”this just in…what? Oh, Florida’s rate is 59.7%.” so virtually really the same. Yet Newsom is sacrosanct in his actions but DeSantis is the devil?

    For the record, I hate republicans, have never nor will ever vote GOP and think that if Trump suddenly dies of a heart attack, it should be made a national holiday, but what I can’t take is neolibs spouting stupidity and dogma like an idiot trumper. Maher feels the same way. Also, for the record, I am an old school New Deal, working class, tax the rich and expand the middle class by wealth redistribution policies that the current feckless boomer Dems run from with a zest (richest guy in my generation? Getty, worth about 30 billion in today’s money. Compared to Bezos and Musk, he’s a piker. Thanks Clinton boomers and the death of “big government”. Let me guess, you all adored Hillary too, didn’t you. Again, thanks for 4 years of Trump hell). Funny you all criticize Maher who has only donated over $2.5 million (at least he puts his money where YOUR mouths are) to Dem candidates, notably Obama. Yet he doesn’t pass the new woke neolib purity tests of all masks all the time regardless of the science.

    The current rate of spread in California is 15 out of 100,000. Compton has a population of 98,000, so simple math says that if I am vaxxed, I should be able to walk around Compton like its 1999. I know there are math wizzes out there so please do the probabilities. Vaccines are 91% effective multiplied by the 15/98000 chance of my coming into contact with a covid spreader in Compton x 91% rate of the vaccine….well, you don’t have to be Avogadro or Maxwell to figure the chances of catching covid has to be at least 1,000,000 to 1. Please correct the math, I may be off…it could be much higher like 1.3 million to 1.

    I went to a Dodger game, I am vaxxed, game is outdoors, yet there was a mask/vax mandate. This is EXACTLY what Maher is talking about. MAKES NO SCIENTIFIC SENSE.

    There are ZERO studies that show outdoor spread is a thing. Please google an exhaustive 2020 Chinese study of almost 7500 cases which showed that “only one instance of outdoor transmission — involving two men talking together in the village of Shangqiu, Henan province — was found among our 7,324 identified cases in China with sufficient descriptions.” Please google that study you dogmatic neolibs and then come back with why mask wearing outdoors is standard now in California stadiums. 2020 outdoor BLM and Trump rallies also empirically prove outdoor spread is not a problem. The fact baseball and football games have been widely played for months and the “dreaded spread” never happened also proves Maher is correct in certain circumstances.

    You people jump on him as if he’s Ted Cruz or MTG!!!! He is one of us!!! Yet to you dogmatic, mask Maoists, he should be fit to be tied by daring to question our fearless Dem health officials.

    One last thing to bury your arguments, please google “CDC hairdresser study” to show the complete and total bankruptcy of the Dem pledge to “follow the science”. In sum, two hairdressers in Missouri were covid positive for two weeks and between the two of them handled over 140 clients. Mind you, cutting hair is very up close and last for 30 to 45 minutes in duration per client according to credit card records. However, this Missouri county was very progressive and had mask mandates, so guess what? out of 144 clients, how many got covid from prolonged exposure to the two infected persons? 10? 90? 45? how about ZERO…ZERO let me repeat ZERO. This 144 page study was published on the front page of the CDC website. Go see for yourself. It was published 18 months ago, yet Newsom sat on his azz and did NOTHING to help small business owners in opening their shops with proper masking for a YEAR after this study empirically, scientifically proved that masking indoors was quite effective at halting spread. Yet He DID NOT FOLLOW THE SCIENCE. One side note, the two hairdressers did give it to their families. Why? BECAUSE THEY TOOK THEIR MASKS OFF WHEN AT HOME. This is how covid is spread…INDOORS. If I had my lifesavings in a salon business in California, and I read that CDC report, and had to wait 12 months for the Dems to follow the science, I would be LIVID.

    I can understand the dumb, redneck, inbred trumper ignorantly following a lunatic and disavowing science. So what is the excuse of this highly intelligent articulate crowd exhibiting the same clueless close minded attitude?

    I can hardly wait to eviscerate your defense of needless lib over-regulation of hair salons in light of the CDC study that came out last year. Because NONE OF YOU will have the balls to say, “wow, what a stupid clusterphuck of good intentions” there is no scientific reason the Governor shut down those businesses other than following stupid neolib orthodoxy. And THIS IS WHAT MAHER was really railing about. And he’s right.

    The fact that Newsome shut down hair salon, nail salons, beauty parlors for over a year after this study was publiv