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.