Remember “Neanderthal thinking?”
That’s what President Joe Biden called it when Mississippi and Texas lifted their mask mandates and capacity limits. Ol’ Uncle Joe did everything but blow a fuse or call Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a lying, dog-faced pony soldier.
“Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference,” Biden said March 3. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way with which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. We’ve been able to move that all the way up to the end of May to have enough for every American, to get every adult American to get a shot.
“The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, ‘Everything is fine, take off your masks, forget it.’ It still matters.”
NEW: President Biden calls Texas and Mississippi decisions to end mask mandates “a big mistake” and criticizes what he views as “Neanderthal thinking” after CDC warned against complacency in the face of emerging coronavirus variants on Monday. pic.twitter.com/Mmdln3gNG6
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 3, 2021
Well, it turns out Neanderthal thinking works just fine — at least according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with The New York Times.
In a Wednesday article titled “Covid Hope Over Fear,” The Times noted that when the CDC said that “vaccinated Americans rarely needed to wear masks, it caused both anxiety and uncertainty.”
“Many people worried that the change would cause unvaccinated people to shed their masks and create a surge of new cases,” David Leonhardt wrote. “On the flip side, a more optimistic outcome also seemed possible: that the potential to live mostly mask-free would inspire some vaccine-hesitant Americans to get their shots.
“Almost three weeks after the change, we can begin to get some answers by looking at the data. So far, it suggests that the optimists were better prognosticators than the pessimists.”
Wow, who would have thought? Except for everyone who had paid attention to Neanderthal thinking and how effective it was.
But we continue. The CDC announcement was on May 13. Daily cases have declined steadily since then.
On Wednesday, the seven-day rolling average of cases was 16,272 in the United States, according to data from The Times. The article was written when the newest data showed just over 17,000 daily cases — both less than half the 35,442 on May 13.
“Overall, daily new cases have fallen by almost 75 percent since mid-April and by more than 90 percent from the peak in January,” The Times’ Leonhardt reported, before admitting this: “A crucial point is that the loosened guidelines probably did not cause many people to change their behavior in ways that created new risks. Vaccinated people went maskless more often, but they are extremely unlikely to get the virus. And even before the C.D.C. change, many unvaccinated Americans were already not wearing masks, particularly in Republican-leaning communities.”
Vaccinations are also up slightly since the new guidelines were announced. However, that’s not the real driver behind changes in behavior.
“All of this is a reminder that fear is not the only way to motivate healthy behavior during a crisis,” The Times reported. “For much of the pandemic, the message from the C.D.C. has been one of ‘doom and gloom,’ Dr. Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University told CNN. And fear can play an important role: Covid is a deadly disease, especially for people over 40.”
But according to Hunter College psychology professor Sarit Golub, fear only works “for only a short period of time, and then often engenders reactance and resistance.”
“In the case of the Covid vaccines, the hope is grounded in reality. Once you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to organize your life around personal fear of Covid (unless you are immunocompromised),” Leonhardt wrote.
“You can safely travel, eat in restaurants, shop in stores, visit with friends and hug your extended family. You can do all of it without a mask. Many other normal activities — like riding in a car or exposing yourself to a normal flu season — present more risk.
“After almost 15 months of pandemic living, I know that may sound aggressive, but it’s not. It is a straightforward summary of the scientific evidence.”
Now, mind you, this is what conservatives have been saying for a while — especially after vaccinations began in earnest.
It depends on the situation, of course, but the “Neanderthal thinking” worked just fine in Mississippi, Texas and other states that removed mask mandates — or never had them in the first place.
Today Texas had the lowest reported Covid 7-day positivity rate in more than a year: 5.68%
Covid hospitalizations went down again–to the lowest level in more than 5 months.
Vaccine supplies are increasing & all adult Texans are eligible to get them beginning Monday.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) March 26, 2021
That tweet from Abbott was more than three weeks after the change took effect. Texas’ rates remained low. Meanwhile, other states had much more significant troubles.
Yet we’re only a few weeks removed from our president saying that wearing a mask after being vaccinated was a “patriotic responsibility.”
Turns out he was the one engaged in the Neanderthal thinking.
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