Lib Writer Argues We Put the Hard Science Aside to Defend Her Obsession with Wearing Masks
Here’s a new reason to keep the masks on, fresh off the presses: It seems Dana Stevens has strong convictions and feelings that don’t have to do with science, and it’s high time we gave them some consideration.
Stevens is the film critic for the online publication Slate. Her latest podcast deals with the cartoon movie “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” a webcast of “Waiting for Godot” featuring Wallace Shawn and John Leguizamo, among others, and a discussion on why the rekindling of the Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez relationship is serious business. I don’t doubt her bona fides in this department.
I do, however, wonder a bit when The Atlantic gives her a thousand-plus words to discuss her ambivalence about masking. The piece — “I’m Not Ready to Unmask” — was published Wednesday, nearly a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced vaccinated individuals could more or less resume life as normal, sans facial covering.
It takes Stevens a bit to get to why she’s going to continue wearing a mask even though she’s vaccinated against COVID-19. Her piece begins with a quote from “The Princess Bride” that’s been much bandied-about this past year, where the character Fezzik asks the protagonist whether he wears a mask because he was disfigured. “Oh no,” he says. “It’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”
There are the predictable jabs at former President Donald Trump’s administration, during which she said “the country was led by a bizarrely compassion-free would-be autocrat seemingly incapable of uttering a sentence that did not contain at least one dangerous lie.”
Now President Joe Biden is in town, and — wouldn’t you know it? — everything’s running swimmingly
“The speed and competency of the vaccine rollout has been nothing short of a miracle, the public-health achievement of the young century; we should all feel infinitely grateful to the research scientists, health-care workers, and public-health officials who have made it feasible to vaccinate millions of people in just a few months,” she wrote. Just not the president who shepherded the vaccine effort, that would-be autocrat.
Stevens accurately noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, as well as the World Health Organization, didn’t always give consistent advice.
“Just over a year ago, the official guidance on masks quietly migrated from ‘Don’t wear them at all, so that the limited supply can go to health-care workers’ to ‘They are now required in all public places,’ without any substantial acknowledgment that the previous advice had been, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong,” she wrote.
“Suddenly, in place of the listicles about high-touch-area scrubbing, instructions were circulating on how to sew your own mask from an old T-shirt or handkerchief; mask making became a thriving cottage industry on Etsy. But what type of mask was best to protect against the coronavirus? Were the KN95s that popped up for sale at a table in front of the now-closed nail salon really manufactured to medical-grade standards, or were they cheap knockoffs that would do little to filter a virus that might or might not be airborne? No one could say for sure, so we figured it out for ourselves on the fly.”
Anyhow, science has gotten a handle on this and the efficacy of the vaccines to prevent either initial infection or serious infection is well-proven at this point. The CDC, which has taken a position of conspicuous overcautiousness on the issue of masking, has finally decided it’s time to put the blue friend away if you’ve gotten the jab. The science is in; the verdict is clear.
Expect some stragglers, though — especially stragglers who try to couch their straggling in high moral tones.
“But excuse me if I, like many of the people I see around me, am not yet quite ready to expose my lower face. Early on in the pandemic, I made a vow with my family that we would set a high standard for COVID-19 avoidance. Not only were we not getting this virus ourselves, if we could help it, but we were taking no chances of inadvertently spreading it to anyone else, even if that did make for a long and lonely year without indoor gatherings and travel to see family and friends. I didn’t want to go to my grave thinking that I was a link in some chain of human interaction leading to someone else’s serious illness or death.”
Yes, the Stevenses are operating on a higher moral plane than the CDC itself. And sure, the science shows the vaccines are effective, but how effective are they really?
“The vaccines are remarkably effective, but not 100 percent. Breakthrough infections among vaccinated people have occurred (witness the cluster of cases among the New York Yankees), and the science about whether and how the virus can be transmitted by the vaccinated to the unvaccinated is not yet certain,” she wrote.
“Putting aside the hard science for a moment, wearing a mask in public spaces — especially indoors, where transmission is more likely — serves a broader social purpose: It says to those around us that, whatever our vaccine status, we value community safety.”
So the science says breakthrough infections could happen. But put “aside the hard science for a moment” she says, practically without catching a rhetorical breath. So it’s not what she originally said this was about — and a good thing, because even when the vaccines don’t prevent breakthrough infections, they’re ridiculously good at preventing serious disease or death. No, this is about showing you care, or at least that you’re seen to be caring. To hell with the science — the very thing leftists loudly declared they were clinging to dearly for the past 14 months.
“When I walk outside my door into a densely populated neighborhood, I know as little about the life circumstances of the people I encounter as they do about mine. Are they, like me, fully vaccinated? Or are they in between shots, still looking for an appointment, or never planning to get a vaccine at all?” Stevens wrote.
“Might they be in chemotherapy, or otherwise immunocompromised in some way that would prevent them from either getting a vaccine or experiencing its full benefits? Do they have children at home who can’t be vaccinated yet (as I did until last week, when the Pfizer shot was okayed for my child’s 12-to-15-year-old age group)? Did they lose one or more loved ones to COVID-19, or have a brutal and possibly ongoing bout with the disease themselves? Do they work in retail, health care, early-childhood education, or some other field that requires them to be exposed to the public in a way we lucky work-from-home types aren’t?”
Here’s my question: Are you kidding me?
Stevens tries to frame this all as if she’s behind a sort of Rawlsian veil of vaccine ignorance: She masks up because she doesn’t know the kind of person she might be on the other side, like an unvaccinated chemotherapy patient who works in early-childhood education and moonlights in retail. Don’t you feel bad now?
In truth, she’s merely hiding behind ignorance, lingering COVID paranoia and moral puffery. These risky situations, when they exist at all, are extremely rare and, as with other people who have medical or lifestyle precautions they need to be aware of, are best managed by the person themselves. In any case, your mask (or lack thereof) won’t make any difference — but it’ll certainly add a patina of self-righteousness to a peculiar personal decision.
It’s all a bit like bringing sugar-free brownies to your neighbor’s party because you were worried a diabetic might show up — and then making sure to tell everyone at said party the Splenda-sweetened brownies may taste a bit off, but that’s just in case someone with diabetes came, all the while obstinately failing to realize they just wouldn’t have eaten the brownies in the first place.
Thus, Stevens is lying to either us or herself when she says she’s wearing the mask “to protect the emotional as well as physical health of those people — and if we’ve learned one thing during this lonely, anxious, crazy-making year, it’s that those two forms of health are inextricably intertwined.”
What she’s doing is appearing “to protect the emotional as well as physical health of those people,” even as the CDC has determined that’s unnecessary. Stevens’ essay may have started out as a paean to the mask and what it still can do, but it ended as a paean to herself — one that revealed quite a bit more than she intended.
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