Off with the masks, let the parties begin? It’s not that simple.
If anyone, even governors, believe that we are done with the coronavirus pandemic, they should think again.
Timing alone forces that reflection: Vaccinations are rising, albeit slowly in terms of getting to the vast majority of Americans. It will require a high percentage of the public to be vaccinated before, in the words we and others have used too many times, we’re out of the woods.
Even in bad years for ordinary influenza, it was difficult to get the vast bulk of Americans to get a flu shot. Our coronavirus pandemic response requires at least that much in the way of shots in arms. We are far from it today.
More contagious variants of COVID-19 continue to gain ground, particularly on the Texas border in southwestern Louisiana.
Then why is the ever-cautious governor of Louisiana lifting many restrictions on gatherings?
In one word, also often used by John Bel Edwards, balance.
The governor said he is trying to balance the needs for economic recovery from the closures of the past year with the continued requirements of vigilance against a deadly disease.
That is why he has followed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in keeping mask orders and requirements for social distancing in public places. Governors of our neighboring states are not so careful.
At the same time, Edwards’ cautious approach is under intense political pressure, not only from the example of nearby states but from businesses hurt so badly in the past year. God knows we, and he, are aware of that.
It is notable that in the City that Care Forgot, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has been even more careful in her approach, but given that New Orleans is so dependent on the tourist trade, we expect a gradual loosening there, too.
But we see business issues as more complex than government restrictions. Many consumers may be able to stay out later, under the governor’s new order, or able to ditch their tiresome masks if they are traveling to Gulf Coast beaches. But will they?
Too much of the political discussion assumes a clear-cut choice between reopening and prosperity on one hand, restrictions and public health on the other. The spectrum of behavior in the marketplace is more complicated.
We suspect many people being more cautious in Texas or Mississippi than their political leaders may expect.
The new head of the CDC is an accomplished physician. Dr. Rochelle Walensky fears a fourth and deadly surge in infections and thus deaths. So much so that she was nearly in tears the other day.
We’re not at all sure that she’s wrong. We support Edwards extending the mask mandate and trying to mitigate a spring surge, while pushing new vaccinations.
It is fine to emphasize balance, but one can be on one’s feet on the deck of a ship with holes in the hull. The water won’t stop rising however balanced you are.
People will almost certainly be more cautious than their leaders this spring. As they should be.