Political leaders and health officials have often invoked “science” to justify decisions manifestly guided by their personal preferences. That costs them credibility. Restoring public confidence will require acknowledging their role in politicizing the pandemic, yielding to accommodations and sensible alternatives in the areas of greatest controversy, and focusing on the widely supported goal of not overwhelming hospitals, rather than less meaningful metrics such as increases in Covid-19 cases.
One of the earliest signs of politicization was the broad animus directed at protesters who objected to the lockdowns. In a country where liberty and free expression are as fundamental as air and water, it is remarkable how casually political leaders and health officials disparaged and banned their activities—and even targeted protesters for prosecution. Politics was also at play when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered police in Brooklyn to break up a crowd of mourners who gathered for a Hasidic Jewish funeral, warning that their actions were “unacceptable” and threatening to arrest them.
Contrast this with the approach that many of the same political leaders and public-health experts took toward the protests catalyzed by George Floyd’s killing. These protesters were neither maligned nor targeted with fines and arrests based on social distancing or mask mandates. They were often joined in the streets by politicians such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
The double standard in treatment was political. All these public gatherings were led by people expressing sincerely held beliefs that they felt outweighed the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Protecting such expression, regardless of viewpoint, is fundamental to the integrity of a democracy. Instead, politicians played favorites with this core American tenet. . . .
Further corroding public trust was health officials’ reversal about wearing masks. In February, they discouraged their use and told the public there was no evidence they were effective. Yet when questioned by Rep. David McKinley (R., W.Va.) on June 23, Anthony Fauci claimed the initial guidance was motivated by concerns about medical supply shortages—not doubts about mask effectiveness. No wonder many Americans don’t trust the calls to wear masks.
If political leaders and health experts want to restore their credibility and the public’s confidence, they need to begin by acknowledging that politics rather than science has influenced important public-health decisions and by making accommodations for dissenting perspectives. Alternatives to masks, for instance, include physical distancing and using face shields while indoors.
And while there is more to learn about immunity, there has not been a single confirmed case of reinfection among the 10 million cases of Covid-19 world-wide, according to a May report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Until the data say otherwise, people who have recovered from Covid-19 should be exempt from restrictions.
Our ruling class and its satraps lack the necessary self-discipline and willingness to forego temporary gratification that is necessary to perform their jobs properly. Which is why they are performing their jobs badly.
To be fair, for many blue state governors in a presidential election year, that’s a feature, not a bug.
More: David Solway’s take on The Real Reason Behind Allowing the Protests During COVID-19.