A month ago a friend bet me that, due to vaccines, Maskachusetts would be “back to normal” today and that the governor repealing his mask order (from among at least 66 total orders issued under a state of emergency) would be the determinant of normality and who would buy lunch at his favorite COVID-unsafe indoor Thai restaurant.
In taking the “this is normal going forward” side of the bet, I pointed out that a mutual friend had said the same thing back in March, i.e., that the vaccine would get us back to normal soon. He’d been hiding in his suburban bunker for over a year when he said that. I said “You believed them when they told you it would be 14 days to flatten the curve and then you could go back to normal. You believed them when they said if people would wear masks for a couple of months that would end coronaplague. You believed them when they told you we just needed one more shutdown. Now you believe them when they say that the restrictions will end once everyone is vaccinated?”
My primary evidence against residents of Massachusetts wanting to be unlocked is observing rich suburbanites, i.e., the folks who have enough money to support politicians with donations. They’d been fully vaccinated weeks earlier and were still wearing masks when walking outside at least 100′ from the nearest human. When queried (at a masked distance) they expressed a personal fear of contracting COVID-19, since they’d heard that the vaccines are not 100 percent effective. I ran into a (masked) mom who was walking her dog. She’s been a Shutdown and Mask Karen from Day 1, but complained that her son, enrolled in an elite private high school, wasn’t allowed to participate in crew because he is also in drama and the drama teacher did not want him exposed to additional COVID risk.
Maybe young people living in crummy apartments in poor neighborhoods wanted to be unlocked, I argued, but they have no political voice.
Meanwhile, the local economy is plainly very different from what it was. A lot of small businesses remain closed (as of October 2020, 33% of Boston’s small businesses were shut, 42% of those in hospitality; overall number of people employed is down about 15 percent in Boston versus 0 percent in Miami and actually up in Tampa (click on “Metros”)). The ones that are left are usually too short-handed to serve customers in what we would have considered a proper manner. There are no Ubers, something I also noticed in other cities, but only higher-cost Uber XLs. When queried, an Uber XL driver said “a lot of people can make more on unemployment so it isn’t worth driving regular Uber anymore.”
Most of the “experts” quoted by the New York Times and similar have been spectacularly wrong regarding COVID-19. But we make no claim to expert credentials and it is fun to try prophecy. What are folks’ predictions regarding state shutdown and mask levels over the coming 12 months?
I’ll go first: My best guess regarding the future is that it looks like the past. So the states that are masked and shut now will be masked and shut going forward while the states that are unmasked and open now will be unmasked and open going forward. Due to the fact that coronavirus is seasonal (and a med school professor friend reminds me that we don’t know why flu is seasonal so we probably won’t figure out why COVID comes in waves either), I expect variations around this theme. Summer 2020 was a quiet time here in MA (see NYT chart below) so I would expect the virus and restrictions to relax in summer 2021 and both to come back in the late fall.
Masks are advertised as a cost-free intervention, so I’m thinking that Maskachusetts, for example, might have a “mask mandate” (it’s been a year and the Legislature cannot get organized to pass a “law”?) through at least 2022, though the previous statewide unconditional outdoor mask requirement has just recently been relaxed to “when you’re not able to maintain a 6′ distance”. Masks will be sold as a cost-free way to prevent the virus from returning. When the virus actually does return, the Mask Believers will say that the masks delayed the return and/or reduced the peak of the return.
(From a physician friend: “The flu is gone because everyone is sticking to the rules but COVID is rising because no one is sticking to the rules.”)
Let’s put our predictions here and check them at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months from now! Bragging rights for whoever gets closest!
Update: At a Bat Mitzvah today (about 15 people in a room designed to hold 100+), a photographer wanted to get a picture of four 13-year-old healthy slender girls. They refused to take off their masks for an indoor photo. He managed to get them outside. They refused to take off their masks for an outdoor photo.
- A Silicon Valley friend: “I am so Woke that I want to change my pronouns to Karen/Karen.”