If Some Public Health Officials Have Their Way, the Answer is Yes
One of the main themes of my forthcoming book about schools during the pandemic is to question why certain officials, often those with infectious diseases expertise, were anointed The Deciders for how all of American civilization should conduct itself. Maximum mitigation of a virus is not the same thing as human flourishing.
What I hadn’t counted on, but is an increasing worry of mine, is the influence some of these people may have on policy or cultural norms after the pandemic is over. Here’s Tom Frieden, former CDC Director and NYC Health Commissioner, suggesting that perhaps blowing out birthday candles is a tradition that should come to an end.
It very well may be true that blowing out candles covers a cake in bacteria. But who gives a shit? As far as I’m aware this fun tradition hasn’t resulted in mass illness. Rather, the only thing one should be concerned about with birthday cake is getting a stomach ache if you overindulge in an extra slice.
Here’s another healthcare person, just throwing it out there that, hey, maybe we should all wear masks for five months every year in perpetuity to help prevent flu infections.
First of all, I’m not convinced that the adoption of NPIs, including masks, this past year is the reason we’ve seen a dramatic drop in influenza cases. And there’s no evidence that masks bought on Etsy are going to prevent 10,000 deaths a year. As Phil Kerpen has written about, numerous places, including Florida, Sweden, and Brazil, had some combination of open schools, no lockdowns, and limited mask usage yet they also saw dramatic drops in flu cases. I’m sure there are epidemiologists and others with ready explanations for this seeming inconsistency, but these examples and others suggest it’s certainly not obvious or irrefutable that mask usage is the reason we’ve seen so little flu this past year.
But, even if we grant (and this is a large grant) that widespread mask usage for five out of every 12 months would reduce the spread of influenza and other viruses, is that really a worthwhile goal if it means none of us could see each other smile for nearly half our lives? People who are at high risk for illnesses should take measures to protect themselves, but the rest of us would do better to follow the motto of Jon Bon Jovi, when he sang: “I just want to live while I’m alive.” (Though I prefer this version of the song.)
Unfortunately, it seems a hypochondriacal fear of germs and a desire to protect oneself from them, no matter the cost, may be the new norm. A survey last month found that 72% of Americans plan to continue wearing masks and 80% plan to avoid crowds after the pandemic is over. Alas, Tom Frieden has more Twitter followers than Jon Bon.