Take Off That Mask

If you are fully vaccinated, the time to resume normal life is now.

Yesterday evening, I went out to dinner with a few friends. Since it had gotten a little chilly, and we are all fully vaccinated, we decided, on the spur of the moment, to dine indoors. "Fauci just gave us back our freedom. The pandemic is over!" one of them joked, referring to Thursday's surprising announcement by the CDC that fully vaccinated people could now drop most pandemic-related precautions.

The hostess, a young woman who looked like she reads all the right newspapers and magazines, rolled her eyes at us. "You can still pass on Covid when you are vaccinated," she said.

"But it's incredibly unlikely," my friend responded.

"In any case," she said bitterly, "the CDC guidance doesn't go into effect until Sunday." Then she wordlessly showed us to our table. (The CDC guidelines, in fact, went into effect immediately. And in the strange and pointless ritual that has become commonplace inside restaurants over the past months, we were dutifully wearing masks when we entered the restaurant, only to take them off the moment we sat down at our table. )

I understand where our hostess was coming from. We are still living through the worst pandemic in over a century. As I write these lines, thousands of Americans are fighting for their lives in ICUs all over the country. Hundreds will die today. And the situation is even more dire in many countries around the world, from Brazil to India.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when both ordinary people and key decision-makers were far too reluctant to cancel big events or tell office workers to work from home, I strongly advocated a more radical containment strategy: my article, with the provocative headline "Cancel Everything," trended on Twitter. Even now, I think that the federal government should do more to make it easy for Americans to get the vaccine, to help distribute it to the neediest countries around the world, and to monitor the potential emergence of dangerous variants.

So we are part of the same tribe, that hostess and I. We both believe that the pandemic is deadly serious. That human life is sacred. That we must do what we can to preserve it.

And yet, I fear that—like many of my friends and colleagues—she has, over the past months, become too attached to aspects of hygiene theater that ultimately do more to reassure us or to showcase our altruism than to combat the pandemic. All over the country, schools continue to close for "deep cleaning" even though the coronavirus rarely, or never, transmits by touch. All over the country, people remain too reluctant to meet friends, to see acquaintances, or to take that business lunch. And all over the country, fully vaccinated people needlessly wear masks outdoors. 

It's time to stop. Over the past year, we have had to make all kinds of adjustments to our everyday lives to combat a deadly pandemic. The reason to take these actions was to save lives, not to adopt a superior lifestyle or show off our virtue. For those of us who are fully vaccinated, those actions are—at least until the situation changes, as it one day might with the emergence of new variants—no longer necessary. If a restaurant or coffee shop requests that you wear a mask, do so. But when and where possible, it is time to resume normal life.

If you are fully vaccinated, go watch that movie. Meet your friends and give them a long hug. Eat inside the restaurant if it's a little chilly out. Take off your mask. Stop the hygiene theatre, and don't feel bad about it for one moment.

Yascha Mounk is the Founder of Persuasion.