The New York Post‘s Editorial Board is rightly critical of an unmasked Patti LuPone’s tirade sparked by someone not wearing a mask to Lupone’s liking. (DBx: You might say that LuPone displayed the arrogance and hypocrisy of, let’s see, an Eva Peron.)
On a visit to DC this week I discovered something everybody might know. Which is that dwellers in the swamp still wear masks. Unlike most New Yorkers, the DC crowd still like to cover their faces as they walk down the streets. If you get into a lift unmasked they still glare at you like New Yorkers did a couple of years ago.
It’s a reminder that different parts of the country are throwing off the COVID restrictions at different speeds. Just like nations. Even now there are places like New Zealand that are still reacting to COVID as though it was the bubonic plague. In fact I would guess that in decades to come those of us who once went there will tell our grandchildren about that majestic country. Immortalized in the “Lord of the Rings,” we will explain how it then cut itself off from the rest of the world in the 2020s. Who will believe our stories of that far-off land?
As a New Yorker it is easy to sometimes feel smug about our city getting going again. But while much of life has returned to normal, plenty of it still has not.
Just this week a columnist at the New York Times actually wrote a lament for masks. Pamela Paul seems to think that we enjoyed mask-wearing and that children in New York liked being hidden behind these pointless face-coverings. It is a look that people are “sorry to see go” she claimed. Apparently, during the era of masks “we got to more creatively choose the face we presented to the outside world, without piercing a nose.” But the main point Paul tried to make was that masks were a useful political signifier. As though we needed more of these in our country.
Masks have certainly remained a signifier. Outside of a tiny number of people who believe they need them for a medical reason, they are a signifier of the people who want to get on with their lives versus those who do not. Who doesn’t? Well, the highly risk averse, obviously. But also those, like [Patti] LuPone, who want an excuse to feel better than other people. People who enjoy hectoring other people and want a virtuous excuse for doing so. I always thought LuPone was a natural on Broadway. But if she thinks she’s so above her New York audiences that she can scream abuse at them then perhaps she should move on down to the Swamp. They would love her. And she might even like them in turn.
While many experts believe there could be a seasonal wave, the figure of 100 million infections is pure speculation. And considering that infections have increased substantially the past several weeks with only a minimal increase in hospitalization and without any uptick in deaths, there is no basis for believing that a fall/winter wave of infections will necessarily lead to a significant increase in severe COVID illness.
Jessica Hockett is correct: “Any school or health department still pretending that Covid is deadly for healthy children – or that it’s possible to prevent the spread of a cold – is either self-interested or deeply deluded.”
What for me stands out is not the pecking order, but two quite different observations. Firstly, it is difficult to spot any obvious correlation between the pandemic–suppressing measures taken by different members of the WHO, and the outcomes in terms of excess mortality. This suggests we should be more tentative about what works, and probably have much still to learn about how such viruses spread. Mask-wearing was far less common in Sweden than in Britain, yet we had twice as many excess deaths, though most Swedes live in urban environments, like us. There’s a strong case for serious and exhaustive study of the role of masks involving human challenge trials, about which (to my bafflement) there seems to be some kind of academic horror.
I lost confidence in health advice from official persons and organisations when more than a year ago it was established that surface contact (touching things) is not a significant source of Covid-19 viral spread. This, I repeat, has now been known for a long time. But official advice on handwashing has not been corrected, there remain (at some economic and environmental cost) signs and hand-gel dispensers everywhere, wipes are still being distributed and cleaners are still prancing around dabbing at bannisters and hand-holds. Why should I believe a government scientific establishment on anything else, if the official advice on this has not changed?
Here, though, is the thing that should not have shocked me (because the figures were broadly known) but did (because I did not know them). Some 109 excess deaths per 100,000 in Britain may be twice Sweden’s rate – but it’s still tiny! That’s about one person in a thousand. I had not properly understood how light the casualties have been in the developed world. And though it’s sad when anyone dies at any age, the average Covid-related casualty in Britain has been in the last ten years of his or her expected life, so viewed in terms of years lost the damage is far less severe than that inflicted by epidemics that target the young as well as old.
Yes, yes, ‘one death is one death too many’ etc, and no, I didn’t know these victims personally and if I had I might feel differently. All true enough. But how I feel is not the point. We do need to be able to count. When we count dispassionately we see a pandemic that took relatively few people away. Looking at the past 30 years, the pandemic did cause a sharp year-on-year difference, but there have been others.
Yet in trying to slow its spread (we were honest about that limited ambition, unlike the Australians, New Zealanders, Chinese and South Koreans) we took a two-year wrecking ball to our economy and to the educational and job prospects, not to say the mental health, of millions of our young people.