Reason‘s Robby Soave decries Faucism, the high priests of which “admit they will never let some mitigation measures expire.” Two slices: Last week, the CEOs of American Airlines and Southwest Airlines told Congress that they do not think mask requirements make much sense on airplanes, where the air filtration systems are superior to what is typically found in an intensive care unit. “I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” said Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest. “It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.” Unwilling to let anyone undermine the case for keeping a government mandate in place, White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci threw cold water on the idea. “You have to be wearing a mask
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Last week, the CEOs of American Airlines and Southwest Airlines told Congress that they do not think mask requirements make much sense on airplanes, where the air filtration systems are superior to what is typically found in an intensive care unit.
“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” said Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest. “It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”
Unwilling to let anyone undermine the case for keeping a government mandate in place, White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci threw cold water on the idea.
“You have to be wearing a mask on a plane,” he said bluntly on television Sunday.
When ABC News’ Jon Karl asked Fauci specifically if he thought we would ever reach the point where we did not need to wear masks on planes, he responded: “I don’t think so. I think when you’re dealing with a closed space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step when you have people—you know, you get a flight from Washington to San Francisco, it’s well over a five-hour flight. Even though you have a good filtration system, I still believe that masks are a prudent thing to do, and we should be doing it.”
This is Faucism distilled down to its very essence. For the government health bureaucrats who have given themselves sole authority over vast sectors of American life—from travel to education to entertainment to housing—it doesn’t matter what the CEOs of these companies think. It doesn’t matter what their customers want. It doesn’t matter if maskless air travel is, for the most part, quite safe (especially for the vaccinated). It doesn’t matter if the mask mandate makes air travel impossible for families with young children. All that matters is the calculus of the most risk-averse people: unelected public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Like Fauci, NIH Director Frances Collins said this past weekend that air passengers should be masked—and should think twice about large gatherings, and even about going anywhere at all.
Yet the Faucists talk about COVID-19 as if the pandemic is still some kind of we’re-all-in-this-together civilizational struggle that justifies and necessitates the suspension of civil liberties, whole industries, and school time. In his ABC interview, Fauci told Karl that he’s never walking away from his position of authority until COVID-19 is defeated.
“You know, we’re in a war, Jon,” he said. “It’s kind of like we’re halfway through World War II, and you decide, well, I think I’ve had enough of this. I’m walking away. You can’t do that. You’ve got to finish it—and we’re going to finish this and get back to normal.”
But the U.S. government is unlikely to ever defeat COVID-19 in the same sense that it defeated Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. In the meantime, the government is claiming more and more power for itself; this power is being wielded by the agencies least accountable to the democratic process, and it is being used to enact harmful restrictions on people’s lives that will apparently last for years, for decades, or forever. Americans still remove their shoes and belts in order to board air planes, even though the event that inspired this policy happened more than 20 years ago—and even though the evidence against this policy is overwhelming.
The Faucists clearly want to make masks just as permanent as the TSA: Indeed, they have said so explicitly, as Fauci just did. At every stage of the pandemic, public health bureaucrats have uttered some version of the sentence Now is not the time to ease up. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not as long as they are in charge.
The pre-eminent U.S. commander in the futile war to eliminate all risk of covid—while ignoring and exacerbating other risks—is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who over the weekend declared a new infinity war. The federal disease doctor now says that, just like Spider-Man, people on airplanes should remain forever masked. “What started as ‘15 days to slow the spread’ has now descended into permanent Faucism,” cracks Gov. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) in a Monday email to supporters.
Had another crazy thought. Instead of closing schools and businesses, why not acknowledge that natural immunity counts, so we can stop firing doctors and nurses. There are lots of empty hospital rooms with no one to staff them.
Larsen also suggests that [Judge] Stranch has pulled a bait and switch. “The majority opinion initially agrees…that an emergency standard must be more than ‘reasonably necessary’; it must be ‘essential,'” she writes. “But then that word, and the concept, disappear from the analysis. What starts as a demand for an ‘essential’ solution quickly turns into acceptance of any ‘effective’ or ‘meaningful’ remedy; and later, acquiescence to a solution with a mere ‘reasonable’ ‘relationship’ to the problem. The majority opinion never explains why ‘necessary’ undergoes such a metamorphosis.”
As Larsen sees it, OSHA “has not made the appropriate finding of necessity.” She notes that “OSHA’s mandate applies, in undifferentiated fashion, to a vast swath of Americans: 84 million workers, 26 million unvaccinated, with varying levels of exposure and risk.” OSHA has the burden of explaining “why the rule should apply to a large and diverse class,” she says, but the agency “does not do so.”
But the question the judges are asked to decide isn’t whether Covid is a grave danger, as Judge Joan Larsen explains in her potent dissent. The question is whether OSHA acted within the law as written by Congress. It certainly didn’t as we read the law.
For starters, the Labor Secretary must show that an emergency temporary standard is “necessary” to protect workers from a grave danger—not merely “reasonably necessary or appropriate.” OSHA argues its mandate is effective and useful, but this is irrelevant.
OSHA waited nearly a year after vaccines became available to issue its sweeping rule. The agency also didn’t attempt to calculate the number of Americans who have contracted Covid at work or identify a particular risk of workplace exposure. OSHA claims workplaces in general are risky and unvaccinated workers in general are at high risk. But some workers at some workplaces have a higher risk of contracting the virus and getting severely ill.
“The government’s own data reveal that the death rate for unvaccinated people between the ages of 18 and 29 is roughly equivalent to that of vaccinated persons between 50 and 64,” Judge Larsen notes. OSHA is obligated by administrative law to consider more tailored alternatives, and it did not.
The Supreme Court’s major questions doctrine says Congress must “speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast ‘economic and political significance.’” Congress also cannot delegate sweeping legislative power to regulators.
The agency has only issued 10 emergency temporary standards in 50 years—six were challenged in court and five were struck down—but all involved discrete illnesses in particular industries. “This emergency rule remains a massive expansion of the scope of its authority,” Judge Larsen writes, comparing it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium that the Supreme Court struck down.
Speaking from the White House on September 9, Biden declared, “As your President, I’m announcing tonight a new plan to require more Americans to be vaccinated.” Biden revealed that he had ordered the Department of Labor, specifically its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to develop an emergency rule “to require all employers with 100 or more employees, that together employ over 80 million workers, to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week.” Apparently forgetting that America is a nation conceived in liberty, he said, “This is not about freedom or personal choice.”
In truth, Biden’s mandate goes beyond even compulsory vaccination or testing. It is really a combination vaccine/mask mandate, as workers who manage to avoid the vaccine mandate—either because their employers instead opt for frequent testing or because they have received a hard-won medical or religious exemption—are instead subjected to an unprecedented, executive-decreed, federal mask mandate. This even as the best available scientific evidence suggests, as I have detailed in City Journal, that masks do little (if that) to prevent the spread of viruses, and might even be counterproductive. They also do tremendous damage to our quality of life.
While Biden asserts that his mandate is “nothing new,” his own press secretary, Jen Psaki, has admitted that “there isn’t a big historical precedent for this.” A few months earlier, Psaki had gone even further, flatly declaring that vaccine mandates are “not the role of the federal government.” She could have added that such mandates are even less the role of the executive branch of the federal government.
On the contrary, the latest demands to shut down the country for the fourth time in two years are based on what we don’t know about the new variant. While SAGE as a whole is clear in favouring harsh measures, The Times reports that chief medical officer Chris Whitty is reluctant to give any unequivocal advice, as ‘until we know how well vaccination protects against hospital admission for Omicron, it is hard to know what to do’. The UK government will apparently not have enough hard data on this, and on the variant’s severity, until after Christmas. (Of course, there is plenty of encouraging data coming out of South Africa, but Whitty claims that this is safe to ignore.) In other words, what we are faced with here is not lockdown as a last resort, but lockdown as a precautionary measure. Just in case. It is Covid safetyism run riot.
Worse still, ministers and officials have hinted that their main concern is not that Omicron will in itself overwhelm the NHS, but that it will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back of our already overburdened health service. The surge in Omicron cases has not yet translated into a surge in hospitalisations, but the NHS is already at over 94 per cent capacity. And so the government is considering reapplying the most extreme restrictions on freedom imaginable, simply to manage pressures on the health service. Our lives will be turned upside down once again to make up for the state’s failure to provide adequate healthcare capacity. To say that the goalposts for lockdown have been moved would be an understatement. The goalposts have been relocated out of the stadium.
At this point, the general public could be forgiven for growing cynicism about SAGE’s supposed predictions. After all, when it comes to overshooting the mark, the advisory body has form. As recently as October, SAGE was reported to have predicted 7000 hospital admissions a day, a scenario which didn’t come close to materialising; in fact, admissions barely topped 1000.
So what purpose do these models serve? Why are they always so gloomy? And why does there always seem to be little acknowledgement of how badly wrong they have been in the past? An illuminating Twitter exchange between Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator and Graham Medley, chairman of the SAGE modelling committee, SPI-M, may hold some of the answers. In the exchange, Professor Medley explained that the models produced by SAGE were “not predictions”; rather than models produced for a broad range of eventualities, their remit was far more limited. Policymakers discuss ‘with modellers what they need to inform their policy’ and models are created on the back of such discussions. Therefore, models are produced to ‘support a decision’ made by policymakers, rather than on the likelihood or plausibility of an event.
This chimes with Sage adviser Prof Mark Woolhouse’s extraordinary warning to the Commons science select committee back in August 2020, that modellers are simply “doing what they are asked to do”. Sadly, his suggestion that modelling “has been used to address a very narrow set of questions”, such as the effectiveness of lockdowns and social distancing, while overlooking other possible responses such as shielding the vulnerable, was ignored.
Frighteningly, the current climate of fear is being driven not just by political cowardice, but intellectual intolerance. Coordinated academic challenge to Covid orthodoxies has fizzled out since the Great Barrington Declaration sparked controversy in October 2020. Still smarting from the backlash against the statement, which called on politicians to consider “focused protection” of the vulnerable as an alternative to restrictions, outspoken “heretics” have changed tack, optimistically talking up the potential for antibody treatments and cycles of reinfection to get us out of the pandemic instead,
Given the ostracism these scientists have faced, their reticence is understandable. When a chilling email surfaced this month from Francis Collins, director of America’s National Institute of Health to Chief Medical Officer Anthony Fauci, in which the former called for a “quick and devastating takedown of [Barrington’s] premises”, it caused barely a ripple of criticism from academics.
And yet now more than ever, we need open and balanced debate about the alternatives to restrictions. It is time to look again at focused protection. Twenty seven per cent of Covid-attributed deaths occurred in care homes as of October 2021. Yet, disgracefully, as we enter an omicron wave, we once again lack a proper shielding plan.