Safety and the Acceptable Risks of Life

A federal judge has ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public transit mask mandate exceeds the agency’s authority.  The decision caused airlines and mass transit systems to quickly abandon their mask requirements.

The CDC still recommends that “people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings” to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, and health officials are pushing a second booster for older people and individuals with a compromised immune system.

A new variant of Covid is spreading through the country, so it is possible that lifting the mask requirement, combined with a general relaxation of best health practices, will contribute to an increase in cases.

But what can you do? The extent to which a law or rule is effective is directly related to the willingness of most people to follow it.

In 1974 during the oil embargo, President Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, setting the national maximum speed limit at 55.  Motorists largely ignored it, and the lower speed limit was eventually repealed. As rocker Sammy Hagar sang, “I Can’t Drive 55.”

Most Americans have made a legitimate effort to keep themselves and others safe during the pandemic by getting vaccinated, social distancing and wearing masks, and thank God for them. Were it not for their compliance, as well as the remarkably quick development and distribution of vaccines, the pandemic would have been much worse.

People came up with all sorts of reasons why they could not or should not wear masks during a world-wide pandemic.  The most absurd was that it was an infringement of an individual’s freedom.

Reality check: the life-and-death struggle of the Ukrainians is what protecting freedom looks like. The mob’s supposedly principled stand over masking is a blizzard of snowflakes.

The judge’s decision is not about them.  It is the result of the inevitable gravitational pull toward normalcy.  President Biden would be wise not to challenge the decision and risk a hostile reaction and massive non-compliance should he succeed.

We naturally seek a comfort zone where we are willing to climb a ladder, drive a car, get on an airplane or, in the case of the pandemic, go back out in public, because we deem that the risk is acceptable.

That means reasonable people will still be careful, perhaps even continue wearing a mask in public. But this is what it feels like when people have decided they are over the pandemic, even if the pandemic isn’t over.




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