President-elect Joe Biden proposed a massive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package in a speech last night, urging Congress to quickly approve $1,400 per-person direct payments and funding for testing and vaccine distribution.
With ultra-narrow Democratic margins in both the House and Senate, whether such a huge expenditure is needed hopefully will at least be debated at a time when publicly held Treasury debt is already approaching $22 trillion.
But another anti-Covid action that Mr. Biden will announce next week does not need congressional approval and likely won’t be debated.
The president-elect said in December he will ask Americans on Inauguration Day to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as a “patriotic duty.”
“On the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever, just 100 days,” he said. He doesn’t have constitutional authority to impose a federal mask mandate, but he will surely use every lever the federal government has to enforce compliance.
Doug Badger and Norbert Michel take a look at the evidence of mask effectiveness in a piece for The Washington Times, “Mask mandates: Are there better ways to control COVID-19 outbreaks?”
“The U.S. is expected to reach the grim milestone of 400,000 COVID-related deaths later this month, around the anniversary of its first confirmed case,” Badger and Michel write. “These numbers suggest that the strategy of relying predominantly on social distancing, lockdowns and mask-wearing is not working. We need better interventions.”
Badger and Michel cite data from across the world showing that mask mandates, even when strictly enforced, have failed to prevent a surge in cases.
“Of the 25 U.S. counties reporting the highest number of new cases during the current surge, 21 had mask mandates in place before August,” they write. “Looking at the 100 counties with the most confirmed cases during this period, 97 had either a county-level mask mandate, a state-level mandate or both.
“Mask mandates failed to prevent a surge in cases in other countries as well. Italy enforces a national mask mandate, imposing fines of up to 1,000 euros. That mandate did not prevent a surge of cases that began in October and peaked in mid-November. As of early January, Italy was still recording new infections at four times the early October rate.”
So what to do. Governments should pursue additional strategies:
- Adopting better measures to protect nursing home residents. The current federal policy of requiring weekly tests of staff and temporal thermometer screenings of visitors is inadequate. Government should require daily testing of staff, at least until all residents and staff have been immunized. Visitors should be tested before entering the facility.
- Enabling nationwide screening through the widespread use of rapid self-tests. Rapid, at-home tests, which don’t require a prescription or laboratory analysis, would inform people of their COVID-19 status and limit the disease’s transmission. “The technology exists to produce these tests in sufficient volume for tens of millions of Americans to test themselves daily. Unfortunately, the FDA has not approved these tests.
“Unlike mask-wearing and lockdown edicts, widespread self-testing is neither culturally nor politically divisive, making it more likely to gain population-wide acceptance. It combats the contagion by empowering and informing people, not confining them, restricting their activities and suggesting that they are to blame for the spread of a contagious pathogen.”
Hopefully, some of the new flood of Covid spending will go to support this effective and efficient strategy.