The Fauci Who Stole Christmas

You're a monster, Dr. Grinch, Your heart's an empty hole.

Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci participates in a briefing Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Chandler West)
Official White House Photo by Chandler West

Reason‘s Robby Soave has grabbed onto the unfortunate neologism “Faucism” and is foursquare against it.

Last week, the CEOs of American Airlines and Southwest Airlines told Congress that they do not think mask requirements make much sense on airplanes, where the air filtration systems are superior to what is typically found in an intensive care unit.

“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” said Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest. “It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”

Unwilling to let anyone undermine the case for keeping a government mandate in place, White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci threw cold water on the idea.

“You have to be wearing a mask on a plane,” he said bluntly on television Sunday.

When ABC News’ Jon Karl asked Fauci specifically if he thought we would ever reach the point where we did not need to wear masks on planes, he responded: “I don’t think so. I think when you’re dealing with a closed space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step when you have people—you know, you get a flight from Washington to San Francisco, it’s well over a five-hour flight. Even though you have a good filtration system, I still believe that masks are a prudent thing to do, and we should be doing it.”

So, a certified public accountant who has a self-interest in making air travel seem safe and convenient has a different view on the matter than a man who graduated top of his class at Cornell Medical School and has spent the last 55 years in the field of public health, the last 37 of which as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases? How ever would we go about breaking the tie?

The filtration argument makes some sense. Except for the fact that it used to be pretty common to catch colds as a result of being confined on planes with sick people for hours on end. So, apparently, the filtration system isn’t all that effective against coronaviruses. So, maybe Fauci is on to something here?

This is Faucism distilled down to its very essence. For the government health bureaucrats who have given themselves sole authority over vast sectors of American life—from travel to education to entertainment to housing—it doesn’t matter what the CEOs of these companies think. It doesn’t matter what their customers want. It doesn’t matter if maskless air travel is, for the most part, quite safe (especially for the vaccinated). It doesn’t matter if the mask mandate makes air travel impossible for families with young children. All that matters is the calculus of the most risk-averse people: unelected public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

So . . . none of this is a refutation of Fauci. It just demonstrates that, if what Fauci says is true, it kinda sucks. I mean, CEOs are going to advocate for their bottom line. Customers are often selfish. And, goddamn it, how long do we have to be in this pandemic before people understand that not all of these precautions are about the individual being asked to take them?

Look, I don’t like masking. To the extent that most of us are vaccinated, it’s largely useless in a lot of situations—especially since few are wearing K95 masks and most are still wearing cloth ones, which are considerably less useful. And that’s to say nothing of the absurd theater of wearing them into restaurants, only to take them off almost the entire time one is inside. In most instances, people are going to simply have to make tradeoffs.

And, yes, there’s a certain bureaucratic inertia at work. As with the thankfully defunct DHS terrorism color codes, nobody in authority was ever likely to proclaim that the crisis is fully over given the incentives.

But, surely, commercial air travel is among the last places we’d end the mask mandate? Especially if we’re not going to have vaccine passports or make them mandatory for air travel. We’re talking an entirely voluntary activity that’s necessarily much more regulated than most activities. And, given the aforementioned tight spaces, it makes sense to take measures to protect the elderly, immunocompromised, small children who are ineligible for vaccination, and other vulnerable populations.

Like Fauci, NIH Director Frances Collins said this past weekend that air passengers should be masked—and should think twice about large gatherings, and even about going anywhere at all.

“I’m not going to say you shouldn’t travel, but you should do so very carefully,” he said, before adding that the unvaccinated should definitely remain at home.

But Collins wasn’t issuing a government mandate; he was simply stating the obvious. We’re in the midst of a surge in cases and deaths with a new variant on which we have little data. Breakthrough cases are spiking. So, yes, it makes perfect sense to advise caution.

My wife and I are boosted and my kids and stepkids are all vaccinated. We’re more-or-less going about our normal lives at this point. But I’m still not keen on, for example, sitting in a movie theater for three hours. And, if we had family who were unvaccinated, I would probably not allow them into our home or go visit them in theirs.

Indeed, the vaccine is the only public health innovation doing much to save people’s lives from COVID-19, but it’s obviously not the case that we are just one more round of booster shots away from triumphing over the disease. The reality is that COVID-19 will be with us for years to come, no matter how faithfully people wear masks, practice social distancing, and get boosted.

That’s . . . probably not right. That is, if we had one hundred percent vaccination—or as close to it as possible—we would probably beat this thing. But, yes, we’ll likely have some residual cases regardless.

Yet the Faucists talk about COVID-19 as if the pandemic is still some kind of we’re-all-in-this-together civilizational struggle that justifies and necessitates the suspension of civil liberties, whole industries, and school time. In his ABC interview, Fauci told Karl that he’s never walking away from his position of authority until COVID-19 is defeated.

“You know, we’re in a war, Jon,” he said. “It’s kind of like we’re halfway through World War II, and you decide, well, I think I’ve had enough of this. I’m walking away. You can’t do that. You’ve got to finish it—and we’re going to finish this and get back to normal.”

But the U.S. government is unlikely to ever defeat COVID-19 in the same sense that it defeated Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. In the meantime, the government is claiming more and more power for itself; this power is being wielded by the agencies least accountable to the democratic process, and it is being used to enact harmful restrictions on people’s lives that will apparently last for years, for decades, or forever. Americans still remove their shoes and belts in order to board air planes, even though the event that inspired this policy happened more than 20 years ago—and even though the evidence against this policy is overwhelming.

Again, I agree that government bureaucracies tend to over-react and think we likely have on some policy choices regarding the COVID pandemic. The absurdity of taking off one’s shoes—unless one paid extra for a precheck that does little—to board airplanes presumably makes it marginally more challenging for a would-be terrorist and gives the illusion of a government exercising due diligence. Requiring masks on a plane—and, again, especially if the requirement were for ones that actually did a good job—makes a lot more sense.

The Faucists clearly want to make masks just as permanent as the TSA: Indeed, they have said so explicitly, as Fauci just did. At every stage of the pandemic, public health bureaucrats have uttered some version of the sentence Now is not the time to ease up. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not as long as they are in charge.

Fauci has been in this post since the year I graduated high school and he’s never heretofore demonstrated an inordinate will to power. We’ve had influenza for decades, including spikes that killed thousands. We never had mask mandates during flu season, despite them being commonplace—and effective!—in other cultures. He was actually slow—too slow!—to encourage their use during the COVID pandemic. I just can’t imagine the man is cackling with glee over the fact that he gets to make us wear them on airplanes for the foreseeable future.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, COVID-19, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    There’s a disturbingly large chunk of society that has rejected the notion of objective reality and thinks the universe runs on willpower: if enough people just want something to be true hard enough it will become true.

    Thus things like telling unvaccinated people that they’re going to have a hard winter becomes an outrage because they really want to be both unvaccinated and safe, so it’s actually your fault if something bad happens because you’re the one who called it into being by putting the idea out there.

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  2. Jen says:

    I’m listening to Fauci.

    That CEO of Southwest ended up testing positive for covid a day or two after that hearing so I’m not inclined to listen to him.

    And, if we had family who were unvaccinated, I would probably not allow them into our home or go visit them in theirs.

    I am full-on dreading Christmas. We’re going to my unvaccinated-but-recently-recovered-from-covid BIL’s house for dinner. I can’t budge my husband off of this, he’s insisting on going for his (vaccinated & boosted) mother’s sake. Sigh.

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  3. Scott F. says:

    In the meantime, the government is claiming more and more power for itself; this power is being wielded by the agencies least accountable to the democratic process, and it is being used to enact harmful restrictions on people’s lives that will apparently last for years, for decades, or forever.

    That’s just the breathless hyperbole of the ardent libertarian.

    Just as the airline CEO and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have their expertise and interests, so does the click-bait generator at Reason.

    8
  4. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    I feel for you. I spent Thanksgiving with relatives who were all vaccinated and boosted, as I am. The one cousin who’s an anti-vaxxer–God knows why; she’s a psychiatric social worker–refused to show up (it was also a celebration of my aunt’s 90th birthday) because of some idiotic squabble with her sister, the hostess. I was relieved.

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  5. senyordave says:

    Here’s Jesse Waters speaking on Monday at Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest conference, Watters encouraged attendees to rhetorically “ambush” Fauci with dubious questions about the National Institutes of Health allegedly funding “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
    “Now you go in for the kill shot. The kill shot? With an ambush? Deadly. Because he doesn’t him, it coming,” Watters said.

    Normally I’d just think its a piece of vermin pontificating in front of a bunch neo-nazis, but that is pretty dangerous rhetoric. Fauci wants Fox to fire him or at least suspend but he’ll probably get a promotion.

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I’m pretty sure the Conservative position would be pro-mask, pro-vaccine.
    Having said that, it’s worth noting when one of the entertainers on Fox News uses incendiary and violent language in a call for people to personally confront Fauci.

    “Now you go in for the kill shot. The kill shot — with an ambush, deadly. Because he doesn’t see it coming,”

    Metaphorical? Yeah, sure.

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @CSK:

    One unintended benefit of excluding the unvaccinated is that anti-vaxxerism seems to highly correlate with a host of other anti-social tendencies so that its a nice objective criteria that also weeds out people you probably wanted to exclude anyways for harder to measure reason.

    e.g. Firing all the cops who refuse to get vaccinated has also turned out to be a great first-order method of firing all the cops undermining civilian control of law enforcement.

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  8. Scott F. says:

    @Jen:
    I feel for you.

    We’ve “braved” the movie theater a couple of times already, including a packed house for Spider-Man this past weekend. My wife and I went to a live music concert in October. We masked as appropriate.

    We attended an annual Christmas party for friends last night, but the unvaccinated had been pointedly uninvited. It was a slightly smaller gathering than usual, but it felt perfectly normal and safe.

    When I was a kid, we rode around loose in the back of a station wagon. Now, everyone in the car wears a seat belt and it’s perfectly normal and safe. The bureaucrats at the NHTSA were called Nazis in the seventies, but not so much now. It takes time, but information and repetition is how we will find our way to being safe without undue burden in the long run.

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  9. Kathy says:

    On airplanes, long story short, before the air can be filtered, it passes over and around several people. So if you’re sitting close to someone with COVID, you can catch it from them.

    Commercial jets have HEPA filters, which are as good as air filters get. But their effectiveness also depends on the system being well-maintained and the filters replaced as necessary.

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  10. Kathy says:

    Another thing. People seem to think that “gain of function” means making a pathogen more virulent or infectious. It doesn’t.

    Take the common E. coli bug in all its varieties, many of which are harmless. It can consume lactose when it runs across any. To do so, it needs to make two enzymes. One to allow the lactose molecule in, and one to break it down.

    Experiments with the bug yielded mutations that produce one or both enzymes constantly, not only when the bacterium detects lactose. This is labeled as gain of function. The bug “gained” the function of making the enzymes at all times.

    Does this benefit the bacteria? No. They spend resources on tools to digest lactose even when there’s none around.

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  11. Argon says:

    Hahahaha! The name for “Reason” magazine was precisely chosen to gaslight people into not noticing the key property that the editors lack. I suppose “Trying to Justify Selfishness” was too long a name.

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    What @Kathy: beat me to. Those wonderful air filters won’t protect me from an infected passenger just upstream from me. If I’m going to sit shoulder to shoulder with a stranger for hours, I’ll keep my N95 on, thank you.

    I’ve struggled to understand why these people think Fauci et al are motivated by a desire for control, control over trivia, like wearing a mask. The abortion stuff leads me to believe it’s all projection.

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  13. ptfe says:

    @Kathy: It’s embarrassing, really, to see someone advance an argument with a San Andreas-like fault cutting straight through it.

    Ask the Southwest CEO to go swim in the river next to industrial discharge, then ask him to swim in the ocean that river it discharges into – he won’t do one of these, and none of us will wonder why.

    Imagine being the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company and making such a nakedly idiotic comment. Now imagine being a writer and thinking, “I can’t believe the government would ignore these wealthy geniuses!”

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  14. CSK says:

    On the last leg of my flight home from Thanksgiving, a guy wearing a gaiter sat down beside me. The flight attendant immediately handed him a disposable surgical mask and told him he’d have to wear that. He refused on the grounds that his cloth gaiter was preferable.

    My immediate thought was: “Oh, shit. There’s going to be an argument, the plane will be delayed or the flight canceled while this fool gets hauled off in cuffs, and I probably won’t get back to Boston till who knows when.”

    For reasons I don’t know, the flight attendant didn’t pursue the matter. Maybe she was eager to get to Boston, too. Anyway, just after take-off, the guy removed the gaiter, pulled another one from is backpack, and put that on. He also wanted to socialize, but I buried myself in a book.

  15. Kathy says:

    @ptfe:
    @CSK:

    I think it’s likely airline execs want to end the mask mandate on planes because of all the troubles it causes them. The aviation blogs report them with monotonous regularity.

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  16. Jen says:

    @Kathy:

    I think it’s likely airline execs want to end the mask mandate on planes because of all the troubles it causes them.

    I think this is 100% correct.

  17. CSK says:

    @Kathy: @Jen:
    I agree. When you read the stories about the cabin crew being assaulted, you can hear the flight attendants thinking Is this really worth it?

    I will say, though, that the one airline person testifying before Congress that she didn’t want the mask requirement lifted was a flight attendant, someone most likely to be attacked by an anti-masker.

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  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Never thought I’d say this but,

    Fly Delta.

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  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: I’ve come to see it more as a “you shouldn’t be forced to do what they say; I’M the only one who should get to tell you what to do” type of thing. Then again, lots of people are saying that my heart’s an empty hole.

  20. wr says:

    One thing I don’t get about all this right-wing (and “libertarian”) warnings about how the evil government is simply making us wear masks to grab power — what power is it they’re grabbing? I mean, okay, they’ve made us wear masks, so there’s that. But the argument only makes sense if there’s some kind of slippery slope. The idea seems to be that our government will do to Real Americans what the Nazis did to the Jews, first identifying them, then isolating them, then stripping away their rights, then sending them to death camps.

    But a mask mandate isn’t a plausible first step towards any kind of Fascist control. Once I’ve put on my mask, how does this lead to another freedom being taken away? At least the frenzy over vaccine passports can conceivably make a little sense — if you don’t have one, first you can’t see Aerosmith, then you can’t go to work, etc, and then you’re in death camps, just like the Jews. Although I don’t recall that the Nazis excused any Jew who was willing to undergo a thirty-second procedure at the corner Rex-All.

    But masks?

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  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @wr: I want to get a mask that says, “This mask fcks with Big Brother’s facial recognition program”.

    6
  22. CSK says:

    @wr:
    I think the right wing believes, or purports to believe, that the mask requirement is a way for the government to condition us to become their slaves eventually.

    3
  23. gVOR08 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Two sides, same coin. Back when I lived in Cincinnati, and when the Enquirer was still more or less a real newspaper, they had a local conservative columnist, sort of a local yuck Cal Thomas. One column he went off on people buying Priuses. Ranted about how the numbers didn’t work so that weren’t saving any money. I read it and thought OK, they may be wasting their own money, but they’re not hurting anybody else, why the anger that ran through the piece? I finally decided it was because the Prius guys thought they were being virtuous and the columnist couldn’t stand the idea that people felt virtuous about doing something he disapproved of. Very much, “Don’t you dare tell me right and wrong, I know right and wrong and I’ll tell you!”

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  24. There are just too many people right now whose deep, philosophical understanding of politics and society is “don’t tell me what to do!” (Or, perhaps the even more sophisticated, “you’re not the boss of me”).

    Sigh.

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  25. @wr:

    One thing I don’t get about all this right-wing (and “libertarian”) warnings about how the evil government is simply making us wear masks to grab power — what power is it they’re grabbing?

    Indeed. It seems to be a growing “argument” that all of this is about a power grab. But, like you, I am wholly unclear on exactly what power is being grabbed.

    I heard an FNC clip that called it all a “socialist power grab” which is just a remarkable non sequitur.

    4
  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: From the standpoint of the design of the item, it’s entirely likely that a gaiter made from tightly-enough-woven fabric (especially with some sort of non-woven middle layer) would be superior to the two-layer w/non-woven insert between the layers cloth masks that I’ve been wearing since the start of the event, and might even be a second or third choice after K95s. (Marked Man and others, please free to pile on and tell me I “have absolutely no idea of what I’m talking about because…”; I’m only engaging in speculation here and don’t have much invested.) Mine are awfully leaky at the edges and don’t loop under my chin well at all (the beard doesn’t help either–in other situations, I’d be just another plague rat I suppose).

    Sadly, gaiters aren’t made that way and most of the ones that I’ve seen people wearing barely stay on their faces at all because the keep pulling them down to use as neck warmers at every opportunity. Oh well. It’s good to know that because I’m completely vaccinated, I don’t really need to wear a mask at all and it’s just performative virtue signaling on my part. Knowing that has been a great relief for me. No one ever has accused me of anything connected with either virtue or ability to signal before Covid-19 came along.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I LOVE THAT!!!!

  28. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    There may be some mystic significance the guy on the plane associated with his gaiter. I don’t know why you’d want to swaddle your entire face below the eyes and your neck when a mask is a lot more comfortable, or so it seems to me.

  29. Matt says:

    @wr: The answer I get is “it’s all about control!!!!11”. Apparently wearing a mask will condition you to jump into a shark tank or something…

    4
  30. Andy says:

    So . . . none of this is a refutation of Fauci. It just demonstrates that, if what Fauci says is true, it kinda sucks.

    This is the point where it would be useful to know the actual Covid risk of flying and how much masking reduces that risk – and not idealized masking, but the manner in which most people actually wear masks and the kinds of masks that people actually wear. And also considering alternative measures that might be taken.

    Fauci is making a judgment about risk and the efficacy of masks in a specific set of circumstances. Judgment about risk is inherently subjective. Fauci even says he “believes” masking on planes is the prudent thing to do. But he doesn’t tell us what the actual efficacy of masking on airplanes is. Maybe the research has been done, maybe it hasn’t (I don’t know), but the risk of not masking is something that research could tell us and is a critical element that is missing from the discussion.

    Secondly, Soave is completely correct that the public health community, including Fauci, consistently biases recommendations to minimize risk, often to the point of absurdity or to a point far beyond the risk assessment that an average informed person would make. While it’s important to listen to those opinions, I’m not sure they should be dictating policy.

    Regardless, without data and research, it’s difficult to know if Fauci is gauging the risk in a reasonable way or not. Is this the equivalent of taking my shoes off at the airport – probably dumb, or is it more like using X-rays and metal detectors (much less dumb). So I’m not going to dismiss Fauci on the need for masking on airplanes, but I want to see the evidence for efficacy. And I’m skeptical that he really believes that masking on airplanes will or should last forever.

    2
  31. Michael Cain says:

    As I mentioned over in the Forum thread, there will be just a bit under three million people passing through Denver International Airport in the two weeks from yesterday through Jan 3. The equivalent of most of the metro area’s population, in two weeks. Including large numbers of people from all over the country, and the world. Omicron’s going to race through that crowd despite the mask mandate at the airport. We are so screwed.

    5
  32. Michael Cain says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I want to get a mask that says, “This mask fcks with Big Brother’s facial recognition program”.

    Don’t laugh. At least one of the East Asian countries where mask-wearing in the winter is normal is making good progress on facial recognition in spite of the masks. “Occluded facial recognition” has been a specialty for a long time. The hobby-level stuff I read makes it seem like masks are no harder than sunglasses.

  33. Slugger says:

    I said this before: a big part of being a doctor is telling people stuff they don’t want to hear. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, lose some weight, don’t eat fat, etc. If you’re not telling people bad news, you’re not a doctor. Politicians tell people stuff they want to hear.

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  34. Slugger says:

    @Michael Cain: In one Sherlock Holmes story, the villain’s disguise fails because Sherlock memorizes the shap of ears.

    1
  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Cain: It does not matter if it’s true or not. The idea is to turn their paranoia on itself.

    1
  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: The argument that I’ve heard for gaiters is that the more complete coverage of your face makes for less leakage. If you tuck the bottom edge of the gaiter into your collar, the only leakage point is at your nose, and that airstream is blowing into your own eye sockets. As to relative comfort, I can only speak to the straps looped around your ears aspect of most masks. I find it annoying at times, but I have glasses and a behind-the-ear hearing aid in one ear, so overcrowding is a problem on one side.

  37. Michael Cain says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    but I have glasses and a behind-the-ear hearing aid in one ear, so overcrowding is a problem on one side.

    Sympathize.

    1
  38. Dude Kembro says:

    In the meantime, the government is claiming more and more power for itself; this power is being wielded by the agencies least accountable to the democratic process, and it is being used to enact harmful restrictions on people’s lives that will apparently last for years, for decades, or forever.

    Ha. My antivaxxer friends also spew this kind of apocalyptic propaganda. They dislike when I respond, “Gotta love this anti-government fearmongering from someone accusing others of selling doom, gloom, hysteria, and panic.”

    I’ll take the Faucism’s fact-based pessimism over Soaveism’s paranoid fantasies.

    Fauci’s job is to be truthful, not to play Santa Claus. Are we going to be masking forever on planes? No, it’s not tenable, and we can’t live risk-free lives. Should Fauci fib about the potential of benefits permanent masking on planes to coddle our collective COVID exhaustion? Also, no. It’s up to the elected officials he advises to massage the message and the policy.

    3
  39. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Fauci is making a judgment about risk and the efficacy of masks in a specific set of circumstances. Judgment about risk is inherently subjective. Fauci even says he “believes” masking on planes is the prudent thing to do. But he doesn’t tell us what the actual efficacy of masking on airplanes is. Maybe the research has been done, maybe it hasn’t (I don’t know), but the risk of not masking is something that research could tell us and is a critical element that is missing from the discussion.

    Would that research involve a whole bunch of unmasked flights?

    Regardless, without data and research, it’s difficult to know if Fauci is gauging the risk in a reasonable way or not. Is this the equivalent of taking my shoes off at the airport – probably dumb, or is it more like using X-rays and metal detectors (much less dumb). So I’m not going to dismiss Fauci on the need for masking on airplanes, but I want to see the evidence for efficacy.

    Sitting shoulder to shoulder in incredibly high density seating, with an extremely contagious airborne illness in the population, for several hours at a time… let’s assume that somehow the air filters are perfect, you would still need a pretty impressive wind from the ventilation to disperse the air exhaled by the sick person quickly enough to stop it migrating 18 inches left or right, 30 inches forward or backwards.

    This is one of those cases where I don’t think a whole lot of research is needed to identify the very real danger.

    As to whether the masks as currently worn do anything about it… They don’t hurt, and they are a much better message than “you’re totally fucked if you’re on an airplane near a sick person.”

    Honestly, all more research is likely to do is tell us whether we need to just give up on air travel, but we’re obviously not going to, so why bother?

    5
  40. Kathy says:

    Cassandra: Don’t bring the horse inside the city walls. It’s a trap. I’ll break it open and show you.

    Republicans: your not the boss of me!!1!!! (I figure they misspell the words they speak)

    7
  41. Mu Yixiao says:

    @wr:

    One thing I don’t get about all this right-wing (and “libertarian”) warnings about how the evil government is simply making us wear masks to grab power — what power is it they’re grabbing?

    Masks aren’t the power grab that is being referred to. There are things that aren’t exactly kosher.

    Start with “emergency powers” that have gotten over the line in some places. Then there’s restrictions on travel and peaceful gatherings. The imposition of curfews (Why? Does COVID get stronger at night?) There’s a push for “track & trace”–which (duh!) tracks everywhere you go–and sends that information to the government.

    The eviction moratorium is certainly worthy of debate. How does the CDC get to dictate what happens in a private contract (landlord/tenant) that has nothing to do with disease?

    And even with masks, it’s not the masks themselves, it goes back to the question of “how long do these “emergency” powers last? ” How long does the government get to keep saying “We’re in an emergency, I get special powers and increased authority?” Most of the stuff that causes me to spock an eyebrow is at the state or county level, not national, but it’s still worth having a conversation about them.

    We are currently under 39 official “states of emergency”–not including any having to do with COVID–going back to 1979 under the Carter administration. Most of them are about economic sanctions, but the quick Wiki synopsis doesn’t detail what powers are allowed (seizure of assets is listed in a few).

    The fact that courts are striking down a lot of these “executive actions” says that there’s some indication that things have gone too far in some cases.

    Yes, a fair number of people are freaking out beyond reasonable behavior (and often about the wrong things), but it’s not unreasonable to ask “how far do these powers extend, and for how long?”

    4
  42. Gustopher says:

    @Dude Kembro:

    Are we going to be masking forever on planes? No, it’s not tenable

    Are you being paid by the makers of Airborne, the vitamin supplement for before you fly to ward off colds, flus and other bugs?

    2
  43. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Well, I can see that the hearing aid would be a bother. (I wear glasses sometimes and don’t have a problem with the mask.) But you can put a string through the earloops and tie it behind your head so the loops aren’t behind your ears. This also helps to keep the mask in place.

  44. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    From the standpoint of the design of the item, it’s entirely likely that a gaiter made from tightly-enough-woven fabric (especially with some sort of non-woven middle layer) would be superior to the two-layer w/non-woven insert between the layers cloth masks that I’ve been wearing since the start of the event, and might even be a second or third choice after K95s. (Marked Man and others, please free to pile on and tell me I “have absolutely no idea of what I’m talking about because…”; I’m only engaging in speculation here and don’t have much invested.) Mine are awfully leaky at the edges and don’t loop under my chin well at all

    The non-woven layer is really important. And there aren’t a lot of stretchy, non-woven materials that would make a good filter, so the gaiter of your dreams likely doesn’t exist.

    (the beard doesn’t help either–in other situations, I’d be just another plague rat I suppose).

    I almost want to know what terrifying things are living in that beard that would make you a plague rat. Almost.

  45. gVOR08 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I find it annoying at times, but I have glasses and a behind-the-ear hearing aid in one ear, so overcrowding is a problem on one side.

    Glasses and two hearing aids. One reason I now use N95s with behind the head straps. Until they became available I used a box of dust masks I happened to have in the garage when all this started. Not medical in any way, but non-woven filter material and a decent fit. I used each way too long and started to find N95s when I had two left.

  46. @Mu Yixiao: Honest question: could you provide more specifics?

  47. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I often wear a gaiter on the MC in cooler weather. You breathe through the fabric as if nothing is there. So, maybe yes, there is less leakage, but that is because the fabric is so porous.

  48. @Steven L. Taylor: To elaborate: how much are you talking past, how much present, and how much future?

    The eviction moratorium is certainly worthy of debate. How does the CDC get to dictate what happens in a private contract (landlord/tenant) that has nothing to do with disease?

    A legit question, I would sincerely agree. But I would also note an unlikely route to authoritarian rule.

    2
  49. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: In cooler weather, at least, I much prefer a gaiter. It’s more comfortable, easier to take on and off, and generates a better deal while not fogging my glasses.

  50. wr says:

    @Michael Cain: ” The hobby-level stuff I read makes it seem like masks are no harder than sunglasses.”

    Then I wish Apple would get with the program so I don’t have to type in my passcode to open my phone every time!

    3
  51. Dude Kembro says:

    @Gustopher:

    Are you being paid by the makers of Airborne, the vitamin supplement for before you fly to ward off colds, flus and other bugs?

    Uhhhh, no…um, definitely not. *stuffs wads of 100 dollar bills behind facemask*

  52. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    I’ve never worn one, so I’ll take your word on that. The guy on the plane was just annoying, though. I suppose the flight attendant decided not to make an issue of it, possibly fearing–with good reason–that he’d start an altercation if she insisted on the mask.

    1
  53. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: Sure. I’d be annoyed if the flight attendant told me I had to wear a surgical mask but I’d wear one.

    1
  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: The beard comment is related to a comment from way back speculating that people with beards may as well not wear Whatever 95 masks because the key advantage was that they are designed to form a leak-proof seal around one’s mouth (disclosure: I have no personal knowledge of the validity of that claim) and that since the beard will cause the mask to leak, it was more or less pointless to take the (at the time) scarcity-prone mask away from someone else who was likely to benefit more.

    I know that my masks leak fairly significantly, but not more than the bandanas and worn-out already gaiters and surgical mask chin diapers that I see at school when I substitute. Still in all, I think my pervasive and relentless tendency to be anti-social even in the most congenial of circumstances is the best protection I can offer both society at large and myself.

    1
  55. JohnSF says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Ah, here we see the advantage of living in a country where the people are both citizens of the state and subjects of the monarch.
    It means than anyone holding a Queens Commission or Warrant can turn to a person saying:
    “You ain’t the boss of me!” and reply:
    “As a matter of fact, I am.”

    2
  56. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I was speaking strictly hypothetically about the design features. As I tried to note in my original comment, I am fully aware that VIRTUALLY NONE of the hypothesized “benefits/advantages” of gaiters existed in the real world. Back in the dark ages when I still had friends who used to alpine camp, I wore both balaclavas and gaiters from time to time. I never found them to be comfortable but did find that they interfered with my significantly worse than now breathing. Why I was doing alpine camping (particularly in the winter) despite having asthma is something that has always puzzled my older self. But I didn’t go often and winter was my best breathing season, so that may have factored into my delusions.

  57. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: That’s because you’ve been cowed into submission by the military and deep state. If you had any sense of self, you’d object as loudly as the next knothead. Americans have the best protection against disease ever created without any assistance from government edicts–the freedoms granted by OUR CONSTITUTION. [waving flags and skyrockets emoji]

    3
  58. Kathy says:

    I think if Barbara Tuchman were still alive, she’d be drafting an addendum to The March of Folly dealing with the trump Pandemic.

    She titled the chapter on Vietnam “America Betrays Herself in Vietnam.” In that spirit, I’ve termed the 2016 election “America Attempts Suicide.”

    We still don’t know whether the attempt will be successful or not. But for Red America, it seems to be progressing to the desired outcome, or at least the logical one.

    1
  59. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: I never really understood The March of Folly until we watched the European beggar-thy-neighbor response to the 2008 financial crisis.

    2
  60. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Non-woven filter material, even one layer, is going to be much better than any woven material for individual virus particles. No comparison. Not even close. But any mask should be good for droplets.

    1
  61. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    This is one of those cases where I don’t think a whole lot of research is needed to identify the very real danger.

    As to whether the masks as currently worn do anything about it… They don’t hurt, and they are a much better message than “you’re totally fucked if you’re on an airplane near a sick person.”

    Honestly, all more research is likely to do is tell us whether we need to just give up on air travel, but we’re obviously not going to, so why bother?

    So you don’t have any idea how effective masks are on airplanes.

    But your defense of them doesn’t make a lot of logical sense to me. On one hand, you say research isn’t needed, but then you float the possibility that research could show transmission could be bad enough that we’d just need to give up on air travel.

    My view is we ought to find out, not guess, and we certainly should not base policy on what a “better message” is which is the very definition of security theater.

    Would that research involve a whole bunch of unmasked flights?

    Probably not. Some of the very good mask studies, for example, test using an aerosol proxy in controlled conditions to measure actual effectiveness.

    And again, maybe this research has been done.

    Regardless, the point is that public officials need to convey accurate information based on actual science and be able to show their work to back up what they say. I don’t have a problem with public health officials giving their expert opinion in the absence of actual research and science, as long as those uncertainties are accurately conveyed. Unfortunately, our public health officials do not do a good job of that and this is an example. And none of the media people seem to ask the pertinent questions, which leaves the listening and watching public with nothing concrete except whether or not to trust Fauci’s opinion.

  62. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    Judgment about risk is inherently subjective.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Are you really equating Fauci, with a lifetime of studying the prevention of transmissible disease and with nearly instantaneous access to every credible researcher in the world, and some random bloke who knows how to Google? Fauci’s ability to assess realistic risk is orders of magnitude better than, say, Tucker Carlson’s.

    4
  63. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    How long does the government get to keep saying “We’re in an emergency, I get special powers and increased authority?

    How long does the government get to keep saying, “We aren’t letting anyone into that street, there’s an active shooter”!? When will this power grab end!

    3
  64. MarkedMan says:

    @wr: Do you happen to wear an Apple Watch? Because my phone is set so that if it sees me wearing a mask it will still unlock as long as my unlocked watch is nearby.

    1
  65. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: Andy, to be honest, it seems you are using the same arguments as tobacco companies and various polluters have used: if we don’t know everything, we can’t do anything.

    6
  66. Kathy says:

    @Andy:

    Masks on airplanes are as effective as they are everywhere else.

    People who go looking for COVID usually find it.

    2
  67. Andy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Masks aren’t the power grab that is being referred to. There are things that aren’t exactly kosher.

    In the case of an aircraft, a person can face criminal penalties for refusing to wear a mask. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the government ought to be able to show how effective that – or any mitigation measure – actually is, and not merely assert it.

    And just to be clear, I’m not at all opposed to masking mandates for air travel, but even though it’s a minor inconvenience for most people, such policies ought to be justified on one of the following basis:

    1. Solid data showing that the requirement one is imposing is efficacious and the degree to which it is efficacious. Additionally, a clear explanation of the probable outcomes of the requirement vs alternatives.
    2. In the absence of data for number one, then explain that conclusive data isn’t available, but the mandate is being put in place as a precaution until the data is available. And then explain when the data is expected to be available and the mandate will be reevaluated at that point.

    For me, this isn’t about whether or not there should be a mask mandate on aircraft. It’s about public officials messaging recommendations and information in a coherent and honest manner. This is why providing accurate information is crucial, particularly when the government demands universal compliance with penalties attached. I think people are willing to accept these policies as long as government and the experts are able to show their work. Fauci suggesting that mask mandates ought to stay in place forever doesn’t meet that standard. As the public messenger for government Covid policy, he should have an obligation to explain that. Like it or not, he is not an oracle and people aren’t just going to take his word.

    1
  68. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Are you really equating Fauci, with a lifetime of studying the prevention of transmissible disease and with nearly instantaneous access to every credible researcher in the world, and some random bloke who knows how to Google? Fauci’s ability to assess realistic risk is orders of magnitude better than, say, Tucker Carlson’s.

    Because what is considered risky for one person is not considered risky by another person. The level of risk is subjective. Additionally, the tradeoffs that are inherent to risk reduction are also subjective.

    These sorts of decisions about risk and trade-offs are unavoidable. People make these calculations all the time, often without even realizing it.

    And the government does too. Hence the reason back in 2020 that governments closed some types of business but not others. Grocery and liquor stores (among others) stayed open not because those businesses were objectively safer than other businesses, but because the cost of closing those businesses was much higher than closing other types of businesses. The risk vs tradeoff calculation was different. Grocery stores were more important than flower or coffee shops for reasons that should be obvious. And liquor stores being open were important because politicians want to keep their jobs and not have rioting in the streets.

    The critical point, for me at least, is that democratic governments, in particular, have an obligation to explain the policy tradeoffs they are making and provide a solid and coherent justification for what they want to do. And that includes Fauci who is the government’s public face for Covid policy. Suggesting that he thinks the risk of Covid on air travel will never diminish to the point where masks are not needed, yet cramming people into planes as long as they are masked is ok – is not something to take on faith from Fauci or Tucker Carlson or anyone else. People who make claims and want to draw the risk-tradeoff line in a particular place need to show their work and reasoning, especially if they happen to be a government official.

    Andy, to be honest, it seems you are using the same arguments as tobacco companies and various polluters have used: if we don’t know everything, we can’t do anything.

    On the contrary, I’ve never suggested not doing anything. But actions taken need to be justified and explained to the public even if such actions are based on best guesses by experts in an uncertain environment. See my response to Mu above.

    The demand that people must simply defer to Fauci’s expertise (or anyone else’s expertise), not dare to question it, and that he has no obligation to explain or justify his recommendations, is merely an appeal to authority fallacy.

    @Kathy:

    Masks on airplanes are as effective as they are everywhere else.

    That’s not correct. The efficacy of masks is situational. Hence the reason that masks are not needed outdoors except in very rare circumstances to name one obvious example.

  69. Kathy says:

    @Andy:

    So, when you’re outdoors wearing a mask , it doesn’t filter any air that goes through it?

  70. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    But your defense of them doesn’t make a lot of logical sense to me. On one hand, you say research isn’t needed, but then you float the possibility that research could show transmission could be bad enough that we’d just need to give up on air travel.

    You are 18” from a potentially infected person for 2-4 hours. Shoulder to shoulder. You would need a mild gale force wind going straight from the floor to a suction vent in the ceiling to not be staring air with that person, but that is not how planes are designed.

    We know that masks work at reducing transmission. The only question is are the effective enough. Let’s say they are not, or that they are partially effective — do you want to ban air travel? Do you want to say “well, it’s not 100%, so screw it, welcome to covid airlines”? Realistically, neither is going to happen.

    It would be better if we required a negative test of everyone flying, day of. Perhaps administered as they are waiting in line for TSA. Dramatically better, although the rapid tests have about a 30% false negative rate, so we would still want to add another later of protection.

    But we’re not going to get a testing regime like that. Nor a vaccine requirement (with the breakthrough infections, we shouldn’t rely purely upon vaccine status anyway.)

    In a better world, we would treat this like a heath crisis with civil rights implications rather than the other way around*. And to slow waves spreading across the country require fliers to be vaxed, boosted, tested and masked. Beverages served with a bendy straw to slide under the mask. It wouldn’t stop the spread, but it would likely slow it enough that we can move surge capacity in hospitals from region to region.

    1
  71. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    And liquor stores being open were important because politicians want to keep their jobs and not have rioting in the streets.

    Because alcoholics going to the ER with withdrawal was going to stress an already stressed healthcare system. (And we should have limited it to curbside ordering and pickup)

    1
  72. Gustopher says:

    @Andy: https://depts.washington.edu/pandemicalliance/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Travel_COVID19_Summary_2021_04_06-1.pdf

    In-Flight (Airplane) Transmission of SARS-CoV-2

    A number of studies have documented transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurring during commercial flights, with evidence of in-flight transmission between passengers and crew members despite face mask use (Choi*, Swadi*, Yang*). Closer seating proximity has been associated with greater infection risk through aerosol and/or respiratory droplet transmission without direct person-to-person contact (Eichler, Hoehl*, Khanh*). There is evidence that transmission took place through shared spaces on the aircraft (e.g., the toilet) (Bae*). For longer flights, it has been estimated that the average infection probability can be reduced by approximately 73% for passengers wearing high-efficiency masks compared to 32% for passengers wearing low-efficiency masks (Wang*).

    2
  73. Tony W says:

    Look, I don’t like masking. To the extent that most of us are vaccinated, it’s largely useless in a lot of situations—especially since few are wearing K95 masks and most are still wearing cloth ones, which are considerably less useful. And that’s to say nothing of the absurd theater of wearing them into restaurants, only to take them off almost the entire time one is inside. In most instances, people are going to simply have to make tradeoffs.

    I keep seeing this theme and it misunderstands the point of most community masking.

    Don’t think of the mask as a filter. Think of it as an umbrella.

    When a surgeon masks up for surgery, that’s not done to protect the surgeon, it’s done to protect the patient from spittle, etc. out of the surgeon’s mouth.

    It is true that on airplanes the situation is different, and I do use a filtering mask (KN94 from Korea) because that’s recirculated/used air and that seems prudent, but an N95-equivalent at Home Depot is simply overkill.

    1
  74. Jen says:

    Face mask use in air travel – Harvard School of Public Health

    Aviation Public Health Initiative – Harvard School of Public Health

  75. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “The fact that courts are striking down a lot of these “executive actions” says that there’s some indication that things have gone too far in some cases.”

    Well, they might be, if we still had actual courts that made decisions based on the law and the constitution. Unfortunately, almost without exception these rulings came from Trump-appointed “judges” — incompetent, ideological hacks who have sworn fealty to a reactionary vision of America and were handed power in order to return us to pre-FDR days — and almost without exception they have been reversed when appealed to actual judges appointed by presidents of either party.

    Trump set out to destroy the institutions of government in order to seize all power into his own hands. His success with the judiciary was spectacular, and now it is corrupted possibly beyond repair.

    4
  76. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “Masks aren’t the power grab that is being referred to”

    By you, because you are a thoughtful person. But for many people, masks are indeed the very first instance of the power grab, are a means of deliberate government control, and to some are sent by Satan. I thank you for expressing the way you see all this, but you are sadly not representative of the anti-maskers.

    2
  77. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “In cooler weather, at least, I much prefer a gaiter. ”

    So I guess I really am the only person here who had to Google to find out what a gaiter is…

  78. wr says:

    @JohnSF: “It means than anyone holding a Queens Commission or Warrant can turn to a person saying:
    “You ain’t the boss of me!” and reply:
    “As a matter of fact, I am.””

    Does this mean that the owners of Paxton and Whitfield can order a British citizen to, say, eat more cheese? Because their royal warrant is quite prominently displayed…

    1
  79. wr says:

    @MarkedMan: ” Do you happen to wear an Apple Watch?”

    I do, but it’s an older one — series 3, I think — so I’m not sure it’s up to the task. If you happened to remember the phone setting in question, I would be delighted to check it out!

  80. wr says:

    @Andy: “Because what is considered risky for one person is not considered risky by another person. The level of risk is subjective. Additionally, the tradeoffs that are inherent to risk reduction are also subjective.”

    Which is why, in situations where risk extends beyond one person, the government sets standards for everyone, no matter what the subjective view of the risk might be. You might believe a stretch of highway to be perfectly safe for driving at 90 mph, and maybe with your particular set of skills you’re right. But since there’s no way of knowing which drivers are accurately predicting their own level of risk to themselves and others, a speed limit is set for all.

    You might also think that you are able to judge the safety of power cords, and therefore should be able to buy one that doesn’t rise to certain standards. Again, we have UL to check on these cords first, because the risks here are not just yours but your neighbors as well.

    In so many areas of life we have standards set by third-parties, specifically because we can’t all judge the risks involved — we can’t visually inspect poultry for salmonella, for instance — or don’t want to risk our lives on what should be worry-free transactions.

    I don’t know — maybe you do have ideological objections to standards set by the FDA, NHTSA, and the rest. If so, sure, add masking on airplanes to your list. But if not, why is masking on planes the hill on which we should risk dying?

    4
  81. James Joyner says:

    @Tony W:

    Don’t think of the mask as a filter. Think of it as an umbrella.

    There’s likely some extremely modest transmission benefit to wearing a mask on the way to one’s table. Mostly, though, it’s a signaling mechanism to give people the illusion that people are taking appropriate measures.

    @Jen: Note that those references are a year or more old now. We seem to have quite a number of studies now showing that surgical masks are far superior to cloth ones that most of us are using.

  82. @Andy:

    The critical point, for me at least, is that democratic governments, in particular, have an obligation to explain the policy tradeoffs they are making and provide a solid and coherent justification for what they want to do.

    This is utterly fair.

    Here’s what the CDC (i.e., the government) has said about efficacy. It seems to me to be a sufficient amount of evidence to suggest that the relatively low cost of requiring masks on planes more than justifies the benefit.

    Could we use more and better data? Of course, but when could we not?

    Could the Feds do more extensive presentations of the data? Sure. Would most citizens tune in to watch? I am guessing no.

    I will be honest, you sound a bit contrarian.

    2
  83. JohnSF says:

    @wr:
    Indeed; and I have no choice but to obey.
    Pass the stilton, and pour the port. 🙂

    I actually forgot about that type of warrant; was thinking of warrant as in “warrant officer” or writ of authority, LOL

  84. wr says:

    @JohnSF: Aha! That makes a lot more sense. As a Yank who has only visited GB, when I hear “royal warrant” my mind goes to cheese and marmalade.

    1
  85. Andy says:

    Lots of responses, unfortunately I don’t have time to go into much depth in my responses.

    @Gustopher:

    Thanks for the study link. The data seems to confirm other mask studies which indicate mask efficacy varies widely depending on the type of mask and how it’s worn.

    Is this kind of data that I think allows us to think a bit more deeply than the simplistic mask vs no mask binary that the national conversation is stuck in. For example, if it turns out that airplane travel is riskier in terms of spread, then why not give everyone an N95 at the gate and tell them they have to wear that? After all, if the goal is actually to reduce transmission then spending a bit of money on better masks to go along with the mandate would seem to make sense.

    @wr:

    Which is why, in situations where risk extends beyond one person, the government sets standards for everyone, no matter what the subjective view of the risk might be.

    As noted in previous comments, I agree with that. But I think the government ought to adequately explain and provide the data and reasoning for the standard the government sets.

    I don’t know — maybe you do have ideological objections to standards set by the FDA, NHTSA, and the rest. If so, sure, add masking on airplanes to your list. But if not, why is masking on planes the hill on which we should risk dying?

    It’s not a hill I’m dying on.

    My issue is that I want government officials who make or influence policy to provide accurate information based on the current state of the science and research. And secondly, to be clear about what they do and do not know and explain why they chose their recommendations instead of alternative approaches.

    Instead, the public health community erred and is still erring in the paternalistic nature of how they communicate which hinders those goals which is and has been contrary to its own policies and research on effective communication.

    In another thread, I brought up defining changes that would need to occur for experts to change their recommendations. In other words, what criteria need to be in place for any particular mandate to be rescinded. This is a question that is rarely asked and even more rarely answered. This particular answer by Fauci interested me because he suggested that the conditions to rescind the mask mandate for airplanes would never arrive, which I would think should beg a few questions…. If the US government plans to keep the airplane mask mandate forever (I seriously doubt that is the case), then they ought not to be coy about it.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will be honest, you sound a bit contrarian.

    If not blindly accepting what a public health expert says makes me a contrarian, then guilty as charged. I wasn’t much of a Ronald Reagan fan, but one thing he said that’s stuck with me is “trust but verify.” That’s the framework I operating in here.

    Anyway, I’m out to time for this thread, but thanks to everyone who responded to my contrarianism. And just so it’s clear, I think the airline mask mandate is warranted at this time. I do not agree with the suggestion that it will always be warranted – at least I will not agree with that until such an argument is fleshed out with supporting evidence.

    Cheers and Happy Holidays.

  86. de stijl says:

    @Argon:

    Reason has a yearly fund raiser. Charity for libertarians who disdain charity. Voggles my tiny mind!