Late last week, Cantrell, facing a reelection attempt this fall, issued an indoor face covering mandate as well as a requirement that city employees and contractors be vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus. This she did, she said, because of increasing case numbers and hospitalizations due in part to the newer, more transmissible delta strain of the virus.
Edwards has said he might follow suit. As of the end of the week, both the number of new cases and hospitalizations were not far from their peaks in January. This differs from what has occurred in most of the rest of the country, and appears to vary with vaccination rates; cases and hospitalizations are considerably lower in places with significantly higher such rates. Another factor hitting Louisiana harder could be its ranking as the least healthy state in the country; under age 70 almost nobody dies from the virus unless they have some kind of co-morbidity.
Given that in this latest wave disproportionately younger people have cropped up as cases, predictably since they have lower vaccination rates, makes that attribute particularly relevant. Moreover, of those vaccinated that get it – about 10 percent of reported Louisiana cases are of the “breakthrough” variety – they typically register less severe reactions. These explain a facet of this surge distinguishing it markedly from that early in the year: deaths now are just a fraction of their numbers from previous surges.
And this ties into the pattern seen in the United Kingdom, which caught the delta strain surge earlier: a rapid increase followed by a quick plunge in numbers. A more transmissible strain moves more quickly through a healthier and diminishing susceptible population, speeding up herd immunity acquisition through natural means (complementing the unnatural method of achieving this, vaccination).
In other words, what Louisiana experiences now is exceedingly fleeting and in a cumulative sense less threatening. Add to this that those who now catch the virus chose to put themselves at risk, as universal access to vaccination has been the norm for months now and they always can wear face coverings on their own or practice other nonpharmaceutical interventions.
This environment doesn’t present a compelling argument for a mask mandate. Even if this surge eats into hospital capacity, it unlikely would go beyond the maximum and won’t last long. Further, the relative ineffectiveness of masking mandates means imposition of one won’t have much impact. Much more effective would be increasing vaccination rates, which the recent surge seems to have stimulated on its own, which NPIs tend to discourage.
Current vaccination status, however, excludes one segment of the population: children. Fortunately, they are exceptionally resistant to any form of the virus; unvaccinated kids have almost no chance of dying from it (less than their chance of dying from influenza), giving them about the same chance of that as a vaccinated 30 year-old. Those number of deaths about equal those in that age group who die in vehicle crashes annually and likely is much smaller when adjusting for the fact that almost half of pediatric reported coronavirus deaths were likely not from the virus but from other causes.
Masks will do next to nothing to reduce the suffering of children from the virus. And if adults in school or other child-intensive environments worry about catching it from children, whether vaccinated they can wear a mask voluntarily. (In fact, school transmission has occurred at only about a third of the rate in the community.)
This is the most insidious and useless part of Cantrell’s order, as it applies to schools – as well as in those districts which have chosen to make that a requirement. Forcing children to wear masks for no good health reason psychologically damages them – although it is an ideal tactic if you want to mold a more passive future citizenry more deferential to government authority.
(Cantrell’s order about vaccinations is even less grounded in reality – clarifications still forthcoming that keeps everything on hold. For one thing, any unionized city employees likely will be exempt because of collective bargaining agreements. Moreover, enforcement of contractors will be a bureaucratic nightmare. And what if a large city contractor refuses? The city abruptly cancels those services and leaves a gap that has an immediate and substantial negative impact? All for something likely to blow over in a matter of days, perhaps at most a month?)
In his virus-response policy, to date Edwards has shown himself much more willing to follow politics rather than science. He needs to break that habit by staying the current course and not emulating Cantrell.