The University of Minnesota president sends me warm wishes!

Gosh. How nice.

When Biden pledged to “follow the science,” it was hard to imagine that the country could have ended up here. But the administration made a big bet that vaccines would provide sterilizing immunity and end the pandemic, allowing it to move on to other priorities. Leaving behind the insanity of ivermectin, hydroxy­chloroquine, and bleach was certainly a great step forward. However, evolution has had other plans, and variants of severe acute respiratory syndrome corona­virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19) have kept the pandemic going. This left the White House in a very tight spot: There was little political will to keep pushing nonpharmaceutical interven­tions, yet the pandemic was far from over. Add to this mounting inflation worries and concerns about the war in Ukraine, and the response has been a clumsy pivot to a message that politicians always turn to: personal responsibility. Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask, get a prescription for the antiviral Pax­lovid—if you want to. This may be fine if you have a healthy immune system, great health insurance, and the ability to navigate the US health care system. But what about everyone else?
COVID-19 is at a similar place to where the HIV/AIDS global pandemic was when the antiretroviral drugs came along. Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves told me about important parallels between both pandem­ics. “The HIV epidemic didn’t go away,” he said. “It just went to where people could ignore it. It went into the rural South, it went to communities that were already facing disparities in health.” At that time, confusion between medicine and public health was also an im­portant factor. “The discourse shifting to private choice and private adjudication of risk is really not what public health science is,” he said. “We work in populations. And if we’re talking about medicine, it’s about private risk and private choices.”

Oops, no. That isn’t Joan Gabel’s message! That’s from the editor of Science magazine, explaining that it ain’t over ’til it’s over, and he concludes,

SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly mutating and recombining, and more variants and subvariants—potentially more pathogenic—are on the horizon. The world is still barely vaccinated, and even in wealthy countries like the United States, resources are inequitably distrib­uted. It absolutely ain’t over. And this is no time to drop the ball.

The message from the university president is a little different. She is announcing that it is time to drop the ball.

The university administration will “respect and honor the decision of those who choose to wear a mask,” but they’ll respect the yahoos who refuse to wear a mask a little more.

“Respect” also means telling me I’m required to teach in-person to classes full of unmasked students in the fall.

Please, Joan, don’t ever wish me anything ever again, warmly or otherwise.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    Yeah, I’ve been watching the Covid stats for my county since they made masks optional in retail stores (I work in one), and that slight upward slope is starting to look more and more like the beginning of another spike. Our hospitals are still in good shape, luckily, but we are seeing one of our fellow county residents die every single day, on average. And we are supposed to be one of the “smart” counties in California.

  2. garnetstar says

    Wondering why you must still mask in hazardous materials settings where you’re wearing PPE? You’re more likely to catch COVID if you work in a chem lab? Why not a bio lab, then?

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    … the state of Minnesota, which became the nations 32nd state 164 years ago today.

    Let’s throw random trivia into our important health announcements.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    Yes, and in the words of the great Groucho Marx, “If you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does”!

  5. rorschach says

    Sorry to hear that PZ. My org is dropping the mask mandate next week too. I will go 100% home office, and consider to resign. I’m not playing mass delusion like everyone else. You are vulnerable, so please don’t play that game of freedumb either.

  6. says

    It’s not about the classrooms and labs. It’s about having an excuse to be “welcoming” at paid superspreader events — crowds at athletic events and such (all too often attended by tribal affiliates actually opposed to real education). I mean, really: Is it actually realistic to get a full-throated “DEE-FENSE” roar from the crowd supporting the nonstudent† athletes if the crowd is wearing masks, let alone social distancing? No? Well, we have to prioritize…

    † Yes they are exceptions. That’s what they are; and it’s incredibly rare to find any of those “exceptions” in a lab anyway. They haven’t been student-athletes at Division I schools for decades — they’re Athletic Department employees with limited tuition waivers.

  7. =8)-DX says

    Over here in CZ we’ve almost got over our delta+omicron double spike, with the decline slowing for three weeks due to the ended mask mandate, but still going down. But then my country has been one of the worst on per-capita infection rates and death, worldwide. At least most people I know have gotten double+booster vaxxed, apart from my parents who are antivax and got pretty bad covid at the end of last year. Great uncle with comorbidities who lived with them didn’t survive. I’m hoping they make it through the next autumn wave, what a shitty disease.


  8. leerudolph says

    I wish that the Editor of Science wouldn’t use the cute sarcastic phrase “However, evolution has had other plans”. I’m not against cuteness and sarcasm as rhetorical devices; I’m not even entirely against personalization as a rhetorical device. But if we’re going to personalize “evolution”, then “However, evolution doesn’t care about your plans” or the like doesn’t carry the poison pill of intentionality that comes along with the editor’s sentence.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    If you know some wildlife biologists that can “harvest” the gunk skunks use for defence, I have some ideas what you and your students can do to express your appreciation for your university president.

  10. dianne says

    birgerjohansson@10: IIRC from my lab days, mercaptoethanol would be a reasonable simulation without the necessity of annoying a skunk to get it.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    I don’t blame evolution. I blame millions upon millions of paranoid, selfish, and just plain STUPID assholes who refused to get vaccinated, giving COVID a window to mutate into something worse.

  12. dianne says

    My experience so far…
    Employer sends out a survey designed to make people say, “Yes, we are enthused about the return to the office.”
    Employees: No.
    Employer: We’re going to go back to the office. Isn’t that great? Here’s a second survey for you to express your enthusiasm for the plan.
    Employees: Fuck no. And just so you know, we’re looking at the want ads on break.
    Employer: Everyone needs to come into the office at least…once a pay period. (One day every 2 weeks.)
    Employees: Talk to the union.
    Employer: We’re piloting a new program that will allow remote work for local employees. But in principle you are back, right?
    Employees: Whatevs.
    And there it stands at last report. I’m hoping that they’ll have enough sense to shut it back down when the hospitals start to fill up again, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

  13. =8)-DX says

    @Akira MacKenzie #12
    That’s not entirely fair. The continued worldwide petri-dish for covid includes the billions in the developing world who have still not been provided with vaccines or other resources, due to continuing western neglect. Yes your local pandemic situation is fucked by irresponsible antivax and anti-hygiene culture, true. But on a larger scale, the paranoid, selfish and just plain STUPID assholes have been governments and western vax and drug producers refusing to release patents and find a collaborative solution to the global problem instead of a profit-driven one.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    Mercaptoethanol upon all the short-sighted fools that paved the road leading to the current situation.

  15. torcuato says

    This is too funny… The editor of Science magazine, the “follow the science!” guy, announces that he was diagnosed with Covid-19, and then “But I’d had four shots of the vaccine […] and a prescription for Paxlovid from my doctor.” Paxlovid! Which, according to Pfizer itself, was tested ONLY ON UNVACCINATED PEOPLE. There is no scientific evidence that Paxlovid does anything to vaccinated individuals! But, Science! And then he declares that after taking Paxlovid, his fever went down. Because, you know, if B happens after A, it means that A caused B. Because, Science! LOL

  16. blf says

    torcuato@16, Whilst it is true Holden Thorp, Science‘s Editor-in-Chief, did get Covid and was prescribed Paxlovid, it is untrue Paxlovid is meant (only?) for use pre-infection. From 13 Things To Know About Paxlovid, the Latest COVID-19 Pill (my added emboldening):

    2. When should I take Paxlovid?
    You have to take Paxlovid within five days of developing symptoms.

    Like all antivirals, Paxlovid works best early in the course of an illness — in this case, within the first five days of symptom onset, says Jeffrey Topal, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist […]

    5. Can anyone get a Paxlovid prescription?
    [… I]n order to qualify for a prescription, you must also have had a positive COVID-19 test result and be at high risk for developing severe COVID-19.


    13. Do I still need to be ‘up to date’ on vaccination if Paxlovid is available?
    Vaccination remains a key part of prevention, even as more drugs become available, says Dr Topal. He pictures prevention as an upside-down pyramid. Vaccination, mitigation efforts, such as masking, and testing would be at the base — and medications at the top point.

    “Early testing is key to making these drugs work,” he says. “It’s always been the Achilles’ heel of these antiviral drugs that most people don’t get tested — or they don’t have access to testing.”

    And yes, the initial clinical trial was only on unvaccinated people. So what?

    Professor Thorp’s own summary: “Just finished Paxlovid rebound. Positive and got medicine on day 1, negative on day 5, positive again day 11, negative again day 15. Better than not taking it? Highly likely. No fever round 2.”

  17. dianne says

    @16: The study excluded vaccinated people because it was started no later than the delta era, probably earlier, and they didn’t want vaccinated people who were going to do well regardless cluttering up their control group. Do you know of any biologically plausible reason that the drug wouldn’t work as well on vaccinated people with breakthrough infections than on unvaccinated people?