Amid the literal bombshells between Russia and Ukraine that have taken the top headlines of every national newspaper, below the fold of the New York Times‘s homepage this morning was a small-print Covid-19 update of explosive nature: “New York Dropping School Mask Mandate, Indoor Vaccination Rules.”
Thank you for your service, Ukraine.
The vaccine mandate repeal, announced Sunday, applies to all restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters in the city beginning March 7, so long as case numbers remain low. New York City’s new mayor Eric Adams made the move following New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s decision earlier that day to end the mask mandate for kids in state schools, citing dwindling Covid cases and new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. The statewide school mask mandate will end Wednesday.
Meanwhile, on the Potomac, the U.S. Capitol attending physician Brian Monahan lifted masking guidelines for Congress members and staff on Sunday, in advance of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday State of the Union address. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser’s mask mandate for the city also ends this week, following the repeal of the city’s vaccine mandate on February 15. Children in D.C. public schools are still required to wear masks.
What does all of this mean? The first city to implement a vaccine mandate for recreational activities and one of the last to repeal it, New York City’s sudden switch here is somewhat surprising. The preferred explanation for the general flip on Covid recently is “midterms,” but that connection seems unrelated for the recently-elected mayor who has only everything left to prove. Whatever factors encouraged his individual decision, peer pressure was surely a big one—which leaves the question of why his peers decided Covid is over now still to be answered.
The distraction of a foreign war is a big one; it is a convenient moment for Covid to slip under the rug mostly unnoticed, while those who used it as an opportunity to restructure American society to fit their vision cover their backsides.
The two year anniversary of “15 days to slow the spread” is also right around the corner, as tantalizing as the hesitantly warm weather. A retired couple I spoke to at a coffee shop in Alexandria, Virginia, this weekend used the phrase, “when Covid ends in the spring.” “When,” not “if”—the general consensus seems to be that it will, again, as it did the past two years.
But the past two years, it has also come right back again as soon as cooler weather hits.
On Friday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky put it this way:
“None of us knows what the future may hold for us and for this virus. We need to be prepared and ready for whatever comes next. We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again, should things get worse in the future.”