Post #794: Mask up for herd immunity

Posted on September 1, 2020

I think I’ve finally come up with a win-win strategy in the coronavirus sphere.  Something both Republicans and Democrats might agree on:

Mask Up For Herd Immunity.

What we have now:

What we need:

Here’s the deal.  For whatever reason, Republicans (and Libertarians) have chosen to turn mask-wearing into some sort of political statement/personal liberty issue.  When, in fact, it’s a public health measure.  Not unlike flush toilets and sanitary landfills.

Today I read that the latest White House COVID-19 advisor is pushing herd immunity as the solution to the pandemic.  (And now denying it, and denying that the Post asked for his comments on the story.)  It’s not the first time the White House has floated that option.

In this case, “herd immunity” is just a buzzword for letting the pandemic run its course.  Ah, with some effort to isolate super-vulnerable groups (such as nursing home residents).  But, basically, just letting the chips fall where they may.

At this point, let’s face facts.  It doesn’t really matter whether or not mask wearing is an effective public health measure.  (It is.)  It doesn’t really matter whether an unconstrained policy of encouraging COVID-19 infections in the population would rapidly overwhelm hospital capacity.  (It would.)  But, the fact is, they believe what they believe, and nothing is going to change their minds.

It’s a total waste of time to present any sort of fact-based argument.  What we need is a slogan that people can cheer for.  Something that proves to them that their side won.

The entire shtick on herd immunity seems to be the notion that if you get yourself some small exposure to COVID-19, you’ll be fine and you’ll develop immunity.  And there is an element of truth to that.  If you could guarantee a small initial exposure, you would indeed increase the likelihood of having only a mild case.  See Post #792.  Doubly so if you’re in an age group where severe cases are uncommon.

It’s just a pity that you can’t guarantee that.  You (e.g.) go out drinking in a crowded bar, and you’re going to get whatever dose you get.  (Ditto, for the people you come in contact with afterwards.)

You’d think it would almost be worth performing the experiment, generating a controlled environment with a known concentration of COVID-19 virus in the air, exposing healthy populations, then quarantining them for 14 days.   As of now, that’s science fiction.   Maybe once a few of the proposed vaccines have failed, people might consider that.  I don’t think we’re quite desperate enough yet.

All you can try to do is shift your odds.  Try to increase the odds that your initial COVID-19 exposure is quite small.  (Ditto, for any dose you might be passing along.)  And the only way to do that, that we know of, is to wear a mask.  Again, see Post #792.

And, to be clear, that’s all you can do with a vaccine, either.  Or social distancing.  Or washing your hands.  You aren’t guaranteeing your health.  You’re shifting the odds in your favor.

We need to stop pushing the idea of masks as protecting the public health, and start pushing the idea of masks as the safe(er) way to achieve herd immunity.

It doesn’t really matter whether or not that’s true.  When it comes to COVID-19, most people are going to believe what they believe, and are not going to let facts get in their way.  It’s plausible, and it might even be true.  Put your mask on and engage in your normal social activities.  In any case, it would be a way to increase mask use among the Republican non-compliant.  And that would be a win-win.

Mask Up And Circulate?  Citizens for Responsible Herd Immunity?  Open the Masked Economy?  I’m Part of the POTUS Herd, and I Mask?  Beats me what the slogan should be.  But if your goal is to get herd immunity via low-dose exposure to COVID-19, you ought to be encouraging people to go about their business.  Sure.  But in addition, you should also be requiring them to wear the best mask they can get, while they do so.  That’s the only known way to up the odds of getting a small initial dose of COVID-19.  If they want a herd immunity strategy to succeed, Republicans need to get serious about embracing mask use as part of that.

Right now, near as I can tell, the top Venn diagram describes the situation.  People who are serious about a herd immunity strategy are the same people who are against masks.  That’s dysfunctional.  If you’re serious about using a herd immunity strategy with anything like a veneer of responsibility, you should aggressively promote mask use.  It’s the only known way to shift the odds in favor of a low initial dose of COVID-19.  And that’s the heart of a successful herd immunity strategy.