SADOW: Edwards Is Still Ignoring Science On Mask Mandates

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards still won’t let his people go, despite the growing consensus that his Wuhan coronavirus pandemic policy doesn’t follow the science and has failed – even taking into account the increased incidence of self-destructive lifestyle choices by Louisianans.

While nearby governors jettison mask requirements and most, if not all, economic lockdown restrictions they had in place (which in most instances were fewer than Edwards still imposes), he stubbornly refuses to do the same. Asked last week about the policy, he proclaimed his mask mandate isn’t going away any time soon, despite that vaccinations against the virus continue steadily, the new case amount has dropped by over 75 percent since mid-January, and daily deaths fell to average single digits last week.

Already well established that economic restrictions do little good – the latest academic study showed in a comparison across jurisdictions that these had a significant positive impact in less than two percent of cases – utilizing face coverings has greater scientific backing. Still, as a recent exchange in U.S. Senate hearings demonstrated, an improper understanding of the science can prompt even the top medical official in the U.S. to make mistaken policy recommendations.

The latest research tells us several things about face coverings. First, using these works much more effectively for infectious people rather than susceptible people, although that drops substantially without high compliance. Second, masks vary considerably in their abilities to reduce transmission, and even superior materials provide little protection when not fitted properly either by design (few do) or user intent. Third, while laboratory conditions suggest the two points above, real-world experience shows masking doesn’t work because of the defeating mechanisms above, and thus become appropriate only when other mitigating measures such as physical distancing aren’t available.

Thus, the science tells us that near-universal face covering policies not only likely have costs exceeding their benefits, but also may not produce any meaningful benefits at all. A universal policy ideally would work to keep the infected – many of whom won’t know or realize that they are – from transmitting the virus, which is why it would have to be so comprehensive. The problem is that the materials used and the way they are designed make that strategy’s effectiveness minimal, and less effective than by using alternatives such as distancing. So, for example, an appropriate strategy would be to mandate coverings in situations such as using public transportation, but not in ordinary commerce where instead distancing restrictions would be put in place.

But Edwards persists in ordering restrictions far beyond this. And one reason why he bucks the science could be the greater vulnerability that Louisianans in general have to the virus. This is because, to be blunt, too many of them smoke, and too many are fat.

By the numbers, just over a fifth of state residents smoke, more than in all but five states. Smoking is associated with respiratory and heart diseases, several of which are conditions that increase vulnerability to the virus’ traumatic outcomes. Worse, at almost 36 percent, Louisiana has a higher self-reported rate (which lags the actual rate by several percentage points) of obesity than all but six states. Worst of all, given the national numbers, that figure should at least double when counting overweight individuals. This is especially discouraging as 78 percent of people hospitalized for the virus were overweight or obese.

It’s little wonder, then, earlier this month that Edwards indulged a moral hazard when he opened up vaccinations for the overweight and obese and/or those who ever had smoked, ahead of the bunch coming online now that among others include (non-elderly, non-overweight/obese, non-current/former smoker) child and youth services workers, food service workers, and (negligently very belatedly) clergy. All who ever smoked chose to do so and the vast majority of the overweight or obese don’t have an underlying medical condition that prompts those conditions, yet they get vaccinated first ahead of individuals who behaved more responsibly in terms of their own health.

Perhaps because of that reduced self-control in a substantial portion of the population Edwards thinks his mandates should stand. But, to use one example, Mississippi has just as bad smoking and obesity statistics, yet its governor eliminated almost all restrictions. And, again, with vaccinations moving steadily onwards in what he may consider a more susceptible population, that should induce an attitude that a mask requirement will disappear sooner rather than later, the opposite of what he spoke.

The fact still remains, the science simply doesn’t back all but the most limited commercial restrictions, including use of face coverings in almost all public venues. Edwards’ continuing to ignore that confirms the extent to which he has politicized decision-making on this issue.

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