I’ve spent way too much time the past week or two reading about COVID and looking at cases, hospitalizations, and deaths and this is where I come down. I don’t believe we can protect the unvaccinated and I don’t believe it’s our job to do so, so I’m against universal mask mandates. I support vaccine passports, but I don’t think they should be mandatory. And I believe masks should be mandated in schools since younger children are ineligible for the vaccine and too many older children live in households with parents too irresponsible to get vaccinated. Finally, we need better masks in places that require them. 

Vaccines work. They might not stop the virus completely, but they do keep people from getting sick enough to be hospitalized and die. In North Carolina, more than 99% of hospitalizations and deaths have been among unvaccinated people since vaccinations began. We need to learn to live with the risk of being sick with COVID just like we live with the risk of flu, meningitis, and a host of other illnesses. Vaccines allow that. 

That said, even people who are vaccinated are at more risk because of people who are unvaccinated. In Mississippi, where COVID is raging because of vaccine skepticism, the number of cases seems to be increasing the frequency of hospitalizations and deaths of fully vaccinated people, especially among the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. The greater the exposure to infected people the greater the risk of catching the disease. 

If a business or organization wants to require proof of vaccination, they should be able to do so. The state should provide a certified vaccine validation card so we can distinguish who is a threat of spreading the virus and who is not. Employers should require vaccines, especially for employees who work in teams or with the general public. People who aren’t vaccinated are a public health risk and should be treated as such. 

Masks should be mandated in schools. Most elementary school children aren’t eligible for vaccines so we shouldn’t put them at risk. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the Delta variant is putting more children in hospitals and even children who show no symptoms are later developing a life-threatening disorder called multisystem inflammatory syndrome. Until we know more about it, we shouldn’t have kids in classrooms with no protection. Since the Delta variant is infecting vaccinated people and they can spread it to vulnerable children, masks seem to be a common sense measure.

As for masks, if we are going to require them of students and staff, we need to provide them. Cloth masks with only one layer of fabric are not very effective. Children should be provided with masks that have at least two layers of fabric or with disposable surgical masks. There’s not much sense in requiring them if they don’t do what we need them to do. 

I don’t believe we are going to get too many vaccine skeptics to get shots unless they are made to feel uncomfortable or scared. They should be treated like the public health threats that they are. They should be separated from those of us who are responsible citizens and prevented from exposing the vulnerable to the virus as much as possible. Since their children are going to be in school, we should require masks to limit the spread of the disease. Schools are places that require groups of people to be together for long periods of time and masks provide protection both for those too young for the vaccine and those who come from households with irresponsible adults. Vulnerable people may need to take additional precautions like wearing masks in public and avoiding crowded venues.

The rest of us should work on getting back to normal. Our vaccines will almost certainly protect us from serious illness, but we’re not going to eradicate it like we did small pox or polio, at least not in the short term. So, we need to get back to life, going out to dinner, going to movies, plays, and concerts. And we need social interaction, especially for our children. Otherwise, the virus is beating us. 

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