Following the Science Isn’t Our Nature

The reaction to the pandemic has long since been about much more than the pandemic.

In “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown,” The Atlantic’s Emma Green argues that it’s not just conservatives who are letting their ideology overrule the science.

Last year, when the pandemic was raging and scientists and public-health officials were still trying to understand how the virus spread, extreme care was warranted. People all over the country made enormous sacrifices—rescheduling weddings, missing funerals, canceling graduations, avoiding the family members they love—to protect others. Some conservatives refused to wear masks or stay home, because of skepticism about the severity of the disease or a refusal to give up their freedoms. But this is a different story, about progressives who stressed the scientific evidence, and then veered away from it.

For many progressives, extreme vigilance was in part about opposing Donald Trump. Some of this reaction was born of deeply felt frustration with how he handled the pandemic. It could also be knee-jerk. “If he said, ‘Keep schools open,’ then, well, we’re going to do everything in our power to keep schools closed,” Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, told me. Gandhi describes herself as “left of left,” but has alienated some of her ideological peers because she has advocated for policies such as reopening schools and establishing a clear timeline for the end of mask mandates. “We went the other way, in an extreme way, against Trump’s politicization,” Gandhi said. Geography and personality may have also contributed to progressives’ caution: Some of the most liberal parts of the country are places where the pandemic hit especially hard, and Hetherington found that the very liberal participants in his survey tended to be the most neurotic.

Now, the rather obvious objection is that the refusal of Trumpists to comply with health guidelines like masking and social distancing has far greater negative externalities than anti-Trumpers engaging in performative hyper-caution. But it’s not without cost.

The spring of 2021 is different from the spring of 2020, though. Scientists know a lot more about how COVID-19 spreads—and how it doesn’t. Public-health advice is shifting. But some progressives have not updated their behavior based on the new information. And in their eagerness to protect themselves and others, they may be underestimating other costs. Being extra careful about COVID-19 is (mostly) harmless when it’s limited to wiping down your groceries with Lysol wipes and wearing a mask in places where you’re unlikely to spread the coronavirus, such as on a hiking trail. But vigilance can have unintended consequences when it imposes on other people’s lives. Even as scientific knowledge of COVID-19 has increased, some progressives have continued to embrace policies and behaviors that aren’t supported by evidence, such as banning access to playgrounds, closing beaches, and refusing to reopen schools for in-person learning.

“Those who are vaccinated on the left seem to think overcaution now is the way to go, which is making people on the right question the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Gandhi told me. Public figures and policy makers who try to dictate others’ behavior without any scientific justification for doing so erode trust in public health and make people less willing to take useful precautions. The marginal gains of staying shut down might not justify the potential backlash.

There has been considerable backlash even from rational, compliant people to the CDC’s slowness in relaxing their guidelines for outdoor activities and insisting on absurd restrictions for such things as summer camps. And, yes, having authority figures issue BS rules makes it much harder to get people to comply with the necessary restrictions. If masking outdoors is seen as virtue signaling, then that will naturally carry over to indoor masking, which is likely still quite important for the unvaccinated.

Even as the very effective covid-19 vaccines have become widely accessible, many progressives continue to listen to voices preaching caution over relaxation. Anthony Fauci recently said he wouldn’t travel or eat at restaurants even though he’s fully vaccinated, despite CDC guidance that these activities can be safe for vaccinated people who take precautions. California Governor Gavin Newsom refused in April to guarantee that the state’s schools would fully reopen in the fall, even though studies have demonstrated for months that modified in-person instruction is safe. Leaders in Brookline, Massachusetts, decided this week to keep a local outdoor mask mandate in place, even though the CDC recently relaxed its guidance for outdoor mask use. And scolding is still a popular pastime. “At least in San Francisco, a lot of people are glaring at each other if they don’t wear masks outside,” Gandhi said, even though the risk of outdoor transmission is very low.

Some of this is perfectly understandable. After fourteen months or so of hyper-caution, snapping back to normalcy is psychologically difficult. Fauci’s statement on indoor dining is at odds with even the hyper-cautious CDC guidelines yet one understands a person in his position urging caution. Better safe than sorry is generally speaking a good policy and Fauci is 80 years old, so even the very modest risk of infection he faces while fully vaccinated is a more serious one than I face at 55. Newsome, meanwhile, has to deal with not only scientific reality but the fact that teachers’ unions are incredibly powerful and may not consent to go back full time in the fall.

Still, it’s harmful. Fauci has been held up as the beacon of Follow the Science. And, considering the high rates of vaccine hesitancy, he really needs to be sending the message that getting jabbed is the way to get back to doing normal things like dining out.

But, back to the original point, being seen as hyper-vigilant is a political shibboleth akin to the right-wing antipathy to masking.

Scientists, academics, and writers who have argued that some very low-risk activities are worth doing as vaccination rates rise—even if the risk of exposure is not zero—have faced intense backlash. After Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, argued in The Atlantic in March that families should plan to take their kids on trips and see friends and relatives this summer, a reader sent an email to her supervisors at the university suggesting that Oster be promoted to a leadership role in the field of “genocide encouragement.” “Far too many people are not dying in our current global pandemic, and far too many children are not yet infected,” the reader wrote. “With the upcoming consequences of global warming about to be felt by a wholly unprepared worldwide community, I believe the time is right to get young scholars ready to follow in Dr. Oster’s footsteps and ensure the most comfortable place to be is white [and] upper-middle-class.” (“That email was something,” Oster told me.)

Sure, some mean people spend their time chiding others online. But for many, remaining guarded even as the country opens back up is an earnest expression of civic values. “I keep coming back to the same thing with the pandemic,” Alex Goldstein, a progressive PR consultant who was a senior adviser to Representative Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 campaign, told me. “Either you believe that you have a responsibility to take action to protect a person you don’t know or you believe you have no responsibility to anybody who isn’t in your immediate family.”

Goldstein and his wife decided early on in the pandemic that they were going to take restrictions extremely seriously and adopt the most cautious interpretation of when it was safe to do anything. He’s been shaving his own head since the summer (with “bad consequences,” he said). Although rugby teams have been back on the fields in Boston, where he lives, his team still won’t participate, for fear of spreading germs when players pile on top of one another in a scrum. He spends his mornings and evenings sifting through stories of people who have recently died from the coronavirus for Faces of COVID, a Twitter feed he started to memorialize deaths during the pandemic. “My fear is that we will not learn the lessons of the pandemic, because we will try to blow through the finish line as fast as we can and leave it in the rearview mirror,” he said.

Going overboard in the protection of others is surely better than the Eff You posture of the mask refuseniks. But, certainly, it comes across as more about signaling that one cares than about actual public health. You’re refusing to wear a mask? Well, I’m gonna wear three!

But, as with the Trumpers, a lot of it seems to be about autonomy and power. In the one case, it’s anger that authorities are trying to restrict one’s normal behavior. In the other, it’s fear that authorities are forcing people back to normal before it’s completely safe.

Months slipped by, and evidence mounted that schools could reopen safely. In Somerville, a local leader appeared to describe parents who wanted a faster return to in-person instruction as “fucking white parents” in a virtual public meeting; a community member accused the group of mothers advocating for schools to reopen of being motivated by white supremacy. “I spent four years fighting Trump because he was so anti-science,” Daniele Lantagne, a Somerville mom and engineering professor who works to promote equitable access to clean water and sanitation during disease outbreaks, told me. “I spent the last year fighting people who I normally would agree with … desperately trying to inject science into school reopening, and completely failed.”

In March, Erika Uyterhoeven, the democratic-socialist state representative for Somerville, compared the plight of teachers to that of Amazon workers and meatpackers, and described the return to in-person classes as part of a “push in a neoliberal society to ensure, over and above the well-being of educators, that our kids are getting a competitive education compared to other suburban schools.”

The reaction to the pandemic has long since been about much more than the pandemic.

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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. Jen says:

    I’m simply more cautious by nature, and my introversion certainly feeds into my desire to continue distancing.

    I’m also not particularly trustworthy of others, so while dining out might be considered safe for those fully vaccinated, I have no idea who is around me–and I’m also smart enough to understand there’s a risk for breakthrough cases.

    The path to normal will be bumpy, and the level of risk acceptance is going to vary considerably from one person to the next. If we were more community oriented and less individualistic, I’d have more confidence that we aren’t going to eff this up. The past year of the pandemic has pretty much demonstrated that there’s a substantial element in the US that DNGAF about others, only what inconveniences them. This is not conducive to a properly functioning society.

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Well done. This needed to be said.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    I agree with your basic premise, which I would boil down to “over reliance on anecdote and feelings knows no political boundaries”. But I think you are premature on this. There are so many voices coming from government, newspapers, TV news, and on and on, and there is no common advice from them whatsoever. The fact that it takes a few weeks to reach a new consensus even amongst people who try to be as science based as possible.

    And I know that because of your situation kids returning to schools is a particular sore point for you. But the last time I checked, what the evidence showed is that school is pretty safe for children. The data seemed much more tenuous when it came to the adults at the school, teachers, janitors, lunch ladies, etc.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Not following the science when the recommendations turn is happening around our place. For months my wife advocated that government follow the science and objected when easing was allowed, now she continues to be masked outdoors. Whether it’s ideology or having internalized a set of rules and behaviors (likely both), the coin is flipping and the other side is questioning the science.

    It has been discussed here before, what really is going on is the ability to assimilate information, and judge risk based on that information, influenced by social/political identity.

  5. Scott says:

    It has been from the case from the beginning that people overall don’t know how to assess risk. Generally, no matter what the topic, either they greatly increase the probability of an occurrence over the reality or they hugely miscalculate the consequence of that occurrence when it happens.

    In the beginning of this pandemic when accurate information was sparse and learning was on the fly, it was natural to be cautious. We didn’t know how it spread or the biological mechanism of the illness or how to contain it. But within six months we pretty much had it figured out. And within a year had a vaccine.

    We see this problem with anti-vaxxers, with some environmentalists, and others. Rational discussions are not talked out but quickly devolved into absolutes.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Just as a matter of survival, I am going to react negatively to anything trump says. The same can be said for any number of trumpist Republicans. It is absolutely rational to assume that everything they say is a lie until proven otherwise.

    All that being said science has never been a constant. It follows the evidence. As more evidence is gathered and analyzed the science changes. Some (most?) people are not so adaptable. I am one of them. While I have no problem following the science of Covid there are plenty of things about today’s social environment that I personally reject. (just ask me about cell phones. go ahead, i dare you)

  7. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Ahem. Scientist here, one who is acquainted with modeling systems that behave mathematically in the same way that epidemics do.

    The “let’s get on with life” brigade has been wrong every time they’ve decided that we can take yet another round of illness and death. Emma Green is no exception.

    The United States, even though those graphs look so nice and coming down off the peak, still suffers something like 500 deaths a day from covid and 5000 new cases. We’ve fully vaccinated something like half of adults, which is a third of the population. The pandemic is still out of control.

    The virus predictably, scientifically, follows exponential increase unless we intervene with simple acts like wearing masks. Exponential increase looks like not much is happening until it takes off fast and is hard to control. This is a good basis from which to recommend that continuing protective measures a little longer than necessary is better than taking them off early. Much better.

    So that’s why I’ve got no problem wearing a mask, probably until around the end of the year. I don’t know why Emma Green can’t follow this part of the science.

    You’re right, James – there are far too many people who irrationally want symbolism that everything is okay when we’ve still got more than a 9/11 of deaths every week and are willing to chance much worse.

    Models can provide non-intuitive results, says this scientist who’s used them, but her intuition, honed on modeling, says that we won’t see a significant effect from the vaccines until we’ve got at least half the population vaccinated – that includes kids. Then cases will drop sharply.

  8. @Cheryl Rofer: I would argue it is a separate empirical question as to whether a given policy is correct or not (e.g., open schools/don’t open school, masks or not) and the degree to which people’s reactions to those policies and choices are influenced by their partisan preferences and feelings.

    I agree that the pandemic remains a huge problem and I would like a far more cautious more forward than I am seeing across the country. For example, I would like to see mask mandates remain in place a bit longer and some incentive programs to get people to get vaccinated.

    However, I think it is also clear that public opinion on all of this, and certainly individual positions, are deeply influenced by their partisan alliances and preferences.

  9. Put another way, it has been quite clear for some time that a lot of “it’s no big deal” people are following politics, not science. But is it also true that a lot of people take their cues about caution from their politics, not because of science.

  10. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I don’t disagree with you, but Emma Green hasn’t made that case with her anecdotes. If she is going to “follow the science,” she needs to start with the mathematics of the virus. It’s simple and clean. Instead, she attacks people who, according to their responses to her article, have been consulting scientists as being “afraid” of the virus.

    I take an umbrella with me when it looks like it’s going to rain. Does that make me afraid of the rain? That’s the argument she’s making.

  11. Joe says:

    I think public health messaging is another complicating factor her. Science will likely provide a number of nuanced directions. Converting those to public information soundbites that fluctuate over time and geography is very confusing and signals confusion rather than sophistication. If simpler messaging means overly cautious opening, then that is a problem we need to live with.

  12. Tony W says:

    I understand how liberals could be viewed as having a knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything the former guy says or does, but that’s because he is literally always wrong about policy – on every topic.

    The fact is that liberals are not in love with eternal lockdown, we just see the science as requiring it. While conservatives complain quite a bit about everything under the sun, they seem quite opposed to doing anything about it. It has been like pulling teeth to get any sort of government money flowing to help small businesses and employees who were caught off-guard by the pandemic.

    While other wealthy countries provide a monthly stipend to help businesses and employees survive, the U.S. federal government threw a few hundred bucks at us and said “good luck” – and by the way, you have to stay closed, but only because of your mean governor.

    This is no way to run a country.

  13. drj says:

    In “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown,” The Atlantic’s Emma Green argues that it’s not just conservatives who are letting their ideology overrule the science.


    Following the Science Isn’t Our Nature

    …is just terrible framing.

    Of course, there are some liberals who engage in virtue signaling and pointless grandstanding rather than trying to follow science or evidence-based best practices.

    But how many compared to conservatives? 10% to 80%? 20%-60%? We sure as hell know it’s definitely not the same percentage.

    Also, how many prominent Democratic politicians are riling up up the base with pseudo-scientific hypervigilance?

    By trying to frame this as a general point about the fallibility of human beings, you are obscuring the fact that tribalism and a lack of rationality aren’t necessarily “natural,” but can also be the result of deliberate propaganda and lies.

    In fact, I’d argue that active progaganda (by the usual suspects) is currently a much bigger problem than the general fallibility of human beings.

  14. @Cheryl Rofer:

    but Emma Green hasn’t made that case with her anecdotes.

    That’s totally fair.

  15. Kathy says:

    Let’s see what the science says.

    Three is such a thing as breakthrough infections. This is when someone fully vaccinated gets COVID 2 or more weeks after the second dose. This happens even among people who received Pfizer or Moderna, which are about 95% effective. So there’s some risk. A small one, but it’s there.

    There is no one reason for breakthrough infections. It may be a defective vaccine batch, or one that was improperly diluted at the vaccination site, or misapplied, or a defect in how ribosomes makes proteins, or any number of other things.

    Now, if you were to be potentially exposed to COVID once, and once only, after vaccination, i’d say caution isn’t warranted. The risk is tiny. The problem is you will get potentially exposed to COVID literally hundreds of thousands of times for some months yet. Each instance carries a small risk. Expose yourself to enough risks without precautions and chances are you will get infected.

    Then there are many other unknowns. Do vaccinated people defeat SARS-CoV-2 quickly and are very unlikely to transmit it, or do they have asymptomatic courses during which they can transmit it?

    Evidence in the form of case counts from countries with very high vaccination rates, like Israel and the UK, suggests the former is the case. But we don’t yet know for certain. Again, caution is warranted.

    Now, let’s try a thought experiment. Which of the following alternatives would be safer for you personally:

    1) You get vaccinated and no one else in the world is or
    2) Everyone in the world is vaccinated except you.

    Since we’ve seen high vaccination rates reduce transmission, it follows that universal vaccination, minus one person, would be the ultimate possible reduction in transmission. Ergo, option 2 is safest for you.

    Applying this to the real world is that getting the vaccine is good for you personally and does reduce your risk of infection. But a high vaccination rate protects you more even if you’re unvaccinated.

    Risk, albeit smaller, persists until we have a high enough vaccination rate. How high? We don’t know. ideally 99% (there’s always a small portion of the population who cannot be vaccinated due to allergies or other medical conditions). Practically, it seems we’ll be lucky to get 75%.

    Me, I plan to keep on wearing a KN95 or N95 mask when around other people, indoors or outdoors, and to keep distancing and avoiding crowded places and events, until daily reported cases fall down to New Zealand or Vietnam levels.

    IMO, that’s what the science suggests.

    Ok. I may be more relaxed at work once more coworkers get vaccinated. Given Mexico is already a month behind schedule from what was announced in December 2020, that will take a while.

  16. KM says:

    @drj :

    In fact, I’d argue that active progaganda (by the usual suspects) is currently a much bigger problem than the general fallibility of human beings.

    People follow the Big Lie because it offers them comfort and an easy solution. Science can be cold as reality doesn’t care about feelings or even your life; sometimes the math says there’s no choice but to space the girl that stowed away in order to keep going on your lifesaving mission. Science offers us a basic truth: preventing infection means getting the disease under control. The way to go about that drastically affects modern life since we’ve grown careless in thinking plagues are no longer a thing for us to fear. The longer we wait or the looser the containment protocols, the worse it will get. We didn’t drape a cloth over Chernobyl and call it a day because it would be too hard, costly and disruptive to address it. The radiation is here and it will kill you whether you accept that or not.

    Politics and propaganda offer nice comforting lies. What disease? Nobody’s dying and if they are it’s cuz they’re old or have the flu or something. Masks are a problem because {fill in the blank with complaint of choice} and you’re not a bad person for choosing your own comfort over someone else’s health or life. No, the world hasn’t irrevocably changed for the worse because selfish people couldn’t be bothered to take early precaution measures. No, this isn’t the new normal as it’s just your enemies trying to punish you for loving freedom to much. Chernobyl can be solved with nobody having to leave their homes or be banned from an area for decades; it’s just bad people trying to take advantage of a “problem” to steal your home and force government constrictions on you!

    Human fallibility suggests most will take the warm lie over the cold truth. However, truth is still truth so it’s interesting to see the breakdown of who accepts propaganda vs truth on this issue. Liberals tend to accept the truth and maybe overzealous in it’s application because better safe then dead. They’re lining bunkers with lead halfway around the world and not planning on coming out for a while – excessively disruptive but it protects them from the threat.
    Conservatives would rather stay in their nice Pripyat apartment and watch the eerie blue glow they’ve been told was a harmless light show. The ashes falling on them are pretty snow to play in, not radioactive pieces from the core. Choosing to believe the lie is what kills you and people choose the lie rather than admit their lives must change in order to stay safe. We saw it with things like smoking and we’re seeing it with climate change.

  17. drj says:


    Human fallibility suggests most will take the warm lie over the cold truth.

    I would say that most people would like to take the warm lie over the cold truth – meaning that they would need some sort of excuse to actually do so.

    Effective propaganda is all about providing the right excuse at the right time to the right audience.

    In the case of Covid, it’s, “no worse than the flu.” In case of global warming, it’s “liberal hoax.” In case of mass shootings, it’s “crisis actors.” Etc.

    Of course, it also helps if “your guy” is saying it. But in developed societies even tribalism needs excuses in order to work, often in the form of “the barbarians are at the gate.”

  18. JKB says:

    If masking outdoors is seen as virtue signaling, then that will naturally carry over to indoor masking, which is likely still quite important for the unvaccinated.

    Sorry, according to the CDC, it is the vaccinated who should mask indoor as they present a threat to the vulnerable unvaccinated through asymptomatic spread. The unvaccinated are not a significant threat to the vaccinated, who are unlikely to have a bad case of COVID even if the virus is able to get a hold of them.

    Although COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting sick, scientists are still learning how well vaccines prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even if you do not have symptoms. Early data show the vaccines do help keep people with no symptoms from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated.

    We’re also still learning how long COVID-19 vaccines protect people.

    For these reasons, people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should keep taking precautions in public places, until we know more, like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands often.

  19. KM says:


    The unvaccinated are not a significant threat to the vaccinated

    That’s not what it says. Please stop spreading anti-vaxxer BS – shedding is *not* a thing if you got the mRNA version since you never got the actual virus to begin with. How can you shed a disease you weren’t infected with? You can’t pass RNA to people via the air, @JKB.

    If anything, it means that because they may have contracted the virus while the immune response was kicking in, it means they’re in the same boat temporary as the unvaxxed and the unvaxxed are the bigger threat since that’s who’s the likely plague carrier. Do we need to break out the peeing-your-pants meme to explain this again?

  20. Jen says:


    Again, reading comprehension is just as important as reading.

    You said:

    it is the vaccinated who should mask indoor as they present a threat to the vulnerable unvaccinated through asymptomatic spread.

    But then the excerpt says:

    Early data show the vaccines do help keep people with no symptoms from spreading COVID-19,

    So, yeah, you’re wrong. Again.

  21. steve says:

    The science has always shown that the risk of outdoors spread is low. If you are outdoors and in a crowd wearing a mask makes sense but otherwise it doesnt do much. Every study that I can remember has shown that the vaccines decrease infectiousness but they have largely been retrospective or studies not designed to look at that issue. There are ones underway, prospective, to look at the question. Pfizer and Moderna have continued to follow their study group too so that is giving us some info.

    Overall, I think some places are being too cautious. Some not enough too. I would be loosening up a bit more. I think people are just ignoring the guidelines in a lot of places anyway. I think if we linked vaccination rates explicitly to relaxation of restrictions we would probably get more compliance and at low cost. I doubt we achieve her immunity anyway. Too much resistance and little vaccination in a lot of foreign countries. . We are going to have to accept low level rates of Covid being with us for a while.


  22. Kathy says:

    Commercial aviation contains a big dollop of risk management. For instance, a two-engine plane, like most are these days, can fly, at a lower speed and altitude, for hours and hours, on one engine. Conceivably most flights could reach their destination safely after one engine fails.

    The standard procedure, though, is to land at the nearest safe airport as soon as possible should one engine fail.


    Because if you’re still in the air and, in particular, over water and far from an airport, should the second engine fail, you’re going down.

    Why should the second engine fail? Well, why should the first? Engines fail rarely (if you look at the Aviation herald daily, you see engine failures reported often, but that’s a handful in millions of flights), but there’s always a small risk of failure. Therefore even the small risk of a second engine failure is intolerable given the dire consequences, therefore you land as soon as possible.

    So, the risk of catching COVID is small once you’ve been vaccinated, but the consequences are dire, if not as dire as a double engine failure. after all, most breakthrough infections produce mild cases, but not all. Therefore, you keep taking precautions until the virus stops circulating so widely as it is now.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: @Steven L. Taylor: I don’t see Green arguing for any particular policy but rather simply pointing out, admittedly through the use of anecdotal evidence, that there is a tribal response to the whole matter. It certainly mirrors what I’m seeing. Because Trump politicized this from the beginning, his supporters are very leery of Fauci and the CDC. But that triggered an opposite reaction on the left, with a knee-jerk resistance to returning to normalcy even when the science supports it.

    Whether it’s safe to put fully vaccinated people into restaurants is a policy choice, a weighing of risk, that can be informed by science but not a scientific decision. But the evidence that the virus essentially doesn’t spread outdoors and that all but the most vulnerable are therefore safe in that situation has long been clear and yet masking outdoors is still a shibboleth for many.

  24. inhumans99 says:

    Hell bells James, Fauci gets a bunch of Trumpers to deride him because he was not always on point with his mask advice (wear a mask…wait, do not wear for a bit longer so first responders do not run out of PPE, advice like that), and Trump was one step away from telling us to ingest Tide Pods to get rid of the virus.

    Is it any surprise that some of us are more hyper cautious about accepting that we should just snap back to normalcy?

    By the way, not mad at you or anything like that, it is just that if anyone but Trump was the figure head for the folks who are arguing that liberals have over-reacted we would have something to talk about.

    It is way beyond surreal that the saying everything Trump touches dies (or is corrupted) is pretty much 100% accurate. Weirder still, is that 4 years from now probably well over 70 million folks want to re-install a guy in the White House who may need to traverse the White House grounds on a rascal scooter, I find it hard to believe most of the country wants that but predicting the future after the past 4 years is a fools game I will try not to play.

    Anyway, getting off track and will stop now.

  25. KM says:

    @James Joyner:

    yet masking outdoors is still a shibboleth for many.

    That’s because it really, really depends on what you’re doing outdoors. If you’re out hunting or jogging, you’re likely fine. If you’re squished together drinking or partying, then no as you’re still in each other’s spaces and faces. Outdoors can be walking your dog in the park or wandering around Disneyland in a large crowd. Guess which is when you should be wearing a mask?

    People keeps saying “outdoors” with an implied duh in the voice like outside is magic and open space is inherently protective; its the appeal to nature without caring what people are doing in that space. If you’re tailgating, you’re not inherently safe because you’re outdoors when chugging beer next to a friend or standing around screaming when somebody does something dumb. You are safer then doing it inside but still not protected. Essentially doesn’t spread is not the same as doesn’t spread at alland stupid people bad at risk assessment act like they’re 100% covered. Maybe when we’ve got a better handle on it we can let people relax but when things like spring break (usually an outdoorish thing) are known to cause spread, asking the public to mask outside makes sense.

  26. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @James Joyner:

    there is a tribal response to the whole matter.

    Indeed. The Trumpies and allies want to pretend the whole thing is going away. Most others are listening to fact.

    The “tribal” framing, besides being offensive to anthropologists, is the wrong way to look at it. If we want to end the pandemic, it will be through science and people who listen to what it has to say. We have a political party that has gone off the rails. Prolonging the pandemic is only one of the wrongs it is inflicting on the rest of us.

  27. Jen says:

    with a knee-jerk resistance to returning to normalcy even when the science supports it.

    This phrasing bothers me because as Cheryl has pointed out, things are not yet that clear-cut. We have roughly half the adults in the population vaccinated, which of course means that the virus continues to circulate. Have one of the more contagious strains pop up in one of the less vaccinated regions of the country as the weather gets hotter, and we’re going to see cases rise.

    We aren’t in the clear yet. In some places, it’s likely safer to return to near-normal activities, but that doesn’t mean it’s fully SAFE.

    Part of the collective problem is that Americans don’t do nuance well at all. We want yes/no, safe/not safe clear distinctions when the situation actually calls for a huge helping of “it depends.”

    It’s not a “knee-jerk resistance to returning to normalcy” at play here–at least not for everyone. It’s an understanding that each and every situation requires assessment and a decision tree–

    Is the activity indoors? yes/no
    Do you know with certainty who around you has been vaccinated? yes/no
    If outdoors and you don’t know who is vaccinated, how close will you be with them and for how long? (Sitting at a stadium for 5 hours for a ballgame is going to present different risk than going to a park for a picnic with friends.)
    If indoors and most (but not all) are fully vaccinated, what exposure are the non-vaccinated bringing to the event? (An unvaccinated person who works with the public is going to pose a different risk to others than an unvaccinated person who works from home.)

    …and so on. And this assessment must take place for every event, every activity, everything tagged as “normal.”

  28. Gustopher says:

    Although rugby teams have been back on the fields in Boston, where he lives, his team still won’t participate, for fear of spreading germs when players pile on top of one another in a scrum.

    This would appear to be the “crowded environment outside” where masks are (I believe) still recommended.

  29. Gustopher says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    The United States, even though those graphs look so nice and coming down off the peak, still suffers something like 500 deaths a day from covid and 5000 new cases.

    If you look at the state graphs, it looks like the nice national numbers are caused by the Nth wave in a few states being contained, while other states are starting their next waves.

    The Washington Governor just changed the goalposts to avoid putting King County back in Phase 2 of reopening rather than Phase 3 (lowers limits on indoor dining, etc) with the claim that it looks like the increase in cases has plateaued just above the pretty arbitrary threshold. This doesn’t make me comfortable, since we are cruising along higher than our second wave.

    Despite being fully vaccinated, I’m not willing to relax too much until we have this pandemic under control.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    Only religion offers certainty, and only because it’s not falsifiable. There will be contradictory and changing results in science on something like COVID, for which see Fauci on masks. And this will be exacerbated by the horrible standard of reporting in popular media. Deliberately so in some of the partisan media, for which see Sean Hannity who is actually killing people.

    When there is uncertainty, the question is not what is true, but on which side to err. In court we choose to err on the side of innocence, or at least claim to. (Something like 90% of criminal cases never go to trial and plea bargaining seems to err on the side of guilty.) Some people will choose to err on the side of personal safety and COVID prevention, others will choose to err on the side of personal convenience and the economy, giving surprisingly little weight to the half million dead people. People at the extremes either way will have not entirely reasoned positions. Also note that we seem to be moving the goalpost from herd immunity to a lower rate.

    If some people were governor, the schools would stay closed until COVID is eradicated. If I were governor the schools would reopen with significant precautions and financial aid to implement the precautions. With Ron De Santis as governor it’s open the schools no matter what and you’re on your own.

    Yes, this is politicized and people on both sides have dug in, but, as with most bothsides it’s asymmetric. I think you have to admit the politicization is 80-99% GOP driven.

    FL has suffered about 2.2 million cases and 35,000 deaths. Without some minimal shutdowns and restrictions, and a great deal of voluntary mask wearing and distancing and restrictions by businesses, it would be at least double. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of people who have been sitting in beach bars all this time freeloading off my precautions.

  31. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Gustopher: Yes, the situation across the states is very nonuniform. It’s good that some states are getting closer to control, not good that others are still increasing in cases.

    I will start to think we’re close to control when smaller units, cities and counties, can be identified as problems so that we can concentrate vaccinating in and around them. We’ll have control when we can identify every case and its contacts and isolate them.

  32. Kathy says:

    Another thing, what is the insane hatred of masks Do masks elsewhere come lined in barbed wire infused with lime and salt?

    Sure, they’re a bit uncomfortable and they take getting used to. If everything else was the same, if there was no COVID, I’d elect not to wear a mask most of the time, just like I elect to wear slippers rather than shoes when at home.

    So, what’s the big hurry to stop wearing masks?

  33. just nutha says:


    …which is likely still quite important for the unvaccinated.

    Sorry, according to the CDC, it is the vaccinated who should mask indoor as they present a threat to the vulnerable unvaccinated through asymptomatic spread.

    It’s probably just my native resistance to what I perceive as contrariness on your part, but I’m not seeing that the CDC advice is contrary to the conclusion that Dr. Joyner made. The unvaccinated are the people most at risk; therefore, masking is still most important to them, so it’s important that vaccinated people maintain masking protocols for the benefit of the unvaccinated.

    In our hubris, many of us who are already exulting in our vaccinated status have been bloviating about going around licking doorknobs and other silly proclamations. My hope is that we’ve just been hyperbolic, but maybe I’m too optimistic for a change. I will consider that possibility.

  34. just nutha says:

    @gVOR08: “others will choose to err on the side of personal convenience and the economy, giving surprisingly little weight to the half million dead…”

    How is it that the adage goes? “OneMy death is a tragedy; [half] a million deaths is a statistic.”

  35. Gustopher says:


    Do masks elsewhere come lined in barbed wire infused with lime and salt?

    The margarita flavored barbed-wire kiss mask is a classic.

    The mask hatred is just being pushed by the right, along with the current “These horrible people are wearing masks when they don’t have to, the horrors!” current moral panic.

    It’s dumb that we are having this current panic — it’s dumb that anyone cares about too much mask on others. It’s this week’s Dr. Suess.

  36. @James Joyner: To be clear: I very much think that people in the aggregate are allowing their partisan politics to dictate what they believe in regards to the science.

  37. JohnMcC says:

    @just nutha: Kipling said it very well: “Twelve hundred million men are spread about this earth,
    And I and you wonder, when you and I are dead,
    What will those luckless millions do?”

  38. Kathy says:

    A friend of my mother’s got COVID around 6 weeks after her second dose of the vaccine. She’s still in the hospital, so that’s not a mild case.

    I know all about anecdotal evidence, but in this case it proves, assuming she did get vaccinated, that breakthrough infections can be as bad as regular infections.

    Overall, most people who get vaccinated won’t get COVID and likely won’t transmit it. You may be part of this group, or you may not. there’s no way to tell. After months of full vaccination of a high percentage of the population, including teens and children, transmission should go down enough that daily reported cases are under a thousand for the whole country. That’s when you can burn that hated mask and lick every doorknob you want (unless you live in an area that had many of the daily cases).

    I really don’t see why this is so hard to believe or understand.

  39. Kathy says:


    I once cut myself while slicing limes. The pain is indescribable.

    The mask hatred is just being pushed by the right, along with the current “These horrible people are wearing masks when they don’t have to, the horrors!” current moral panic.

    That’s been going on for over a year now. What I see these days are moderates and rational conservatives eager to ditch masks because they are vaccinated.

    I don’t suppose we’ll keep wearing masks indefinitely. But, then, we’ve been wearing clothes more or less universally for longer than we’ve had civilization, so you never can tell.