Looks like the attorney generals for 21 states “can’t hardly wait” until April 18. Even though the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) face mask requirements for those riding public transit and in transportation hubs are scheduled to expire April 18, Florida is leading 20 states in a multistate lawsuit against these requirements.
According to a March 29 announcement from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Florida along with Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia has been taking legal action. And of course legal action ain’t free or cheap. So who might be paying for all this? Well, if you live in one of these 21 states and pay state taxes, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, point your finger at the mirror, and in your best Camila Cabello voice sing, “it’s you, babe.” Yes, you may be helping finance this battle against something that could very well be lifted in less than two weeks anyway.
Here is what DeSantis tweeted that same day:
And here is what Moody tweeted two days later:
In the press release accompanying the March 29 announcement, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed that “Florida has led the nation in standing up to misguided federal government policies and fighting back against heavy-handed mandates that have no scientific backing.” Well, it might look like there’s no scientific backing for face mask use when you don’t look at, you know, the scientific literature. A quick search of PubMed would return plenty of studies supporting the use of face masks. For example, a study from Wei Lyu, MS and George Wehby, PhD, at the College of Public Health, University of Iowa published in the journal Health Affairs showed how mandating face mask use in public was associated with declines in the daily Covid-19 growth rates.
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In fact, if you want a summary of the scientific literature as of late 2020, just look at a review of existing studies published in PNAS in January 2021. The review prompted the authors to conclude: “the preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility/contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles.” The words “preponderance of evidence” are pretty strong. For example, if someone were to tell you, there’s a preponderance of evidence that a slug is climbing up your back, you probably would do something about it. Our computer model described in The Lancet Public Health synthesized much of the existing data and evidence on face mask use and showed how maintaining face mask use until certain vaccination coverage levels are reached could end up saving the U.S. billions of dollars.
In his office’s press release, DeSantis did add, “If politicians and celebrities can attend the Super Bowl unmasked, every U.S. citizen should have the right to fly unmasked. It is well past time to get rid of this unnecessary mandate and get back to normal life.” OK, DeSantis was right about the Super Bowl. The politicians and celebrities who failed to wear face masks did send the wrong message to the public. It suggested that there was a double-standard in place, that politicians and celebrities were somehow above the law and other regulations. But if you somehow believe that celebrities are always models of what everyone else should do in real life, you may have not watched the Oscar Awards recently.
Moreover, DeSantis saying “get back to normal life” won’t make the pandemic simply go away. Public health doesn’t necessarily follow what’s written in self-help books like The Secret. You can ask for and believe that the pandemic is over all that you want. But the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) ain’t going to put up its spikes and say, “oh sorry, here we were thinking all along that you wanted us to keep spreading, killing people, and causing long Covid. Next time, make sure that you lean in more.” Claiming that the pandemic is over alone is not going to stop the more transmissible BA.2 Omicron subvariant of the SARS-CoV-2 from spreading further. Eliminating face mask use prematurely will leave our society even more vulnerable to another Covid-19 surge.
One of the biggest tragedies of this pandemic has been the continued politicization of Covid-19 and Covid-19 precautions. Imagine how many deaths and how much suffering could have been prevented had political leaders simply listened to real scientists. In this case, legal action may cost taxpayers more money, and it may make a political statement. But it’s not going to change the reality that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.