Delta variant should be no excuse to repeat bad COVID-19 policies

Effective August 4, the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis will be requiring masks in city-operated public buildings. On August 3rd, Mayor Jacob Frey declared:

Effective August 4, 2021 any individual who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face covering in accordance with CDC guidance when inside all buildings and facilities owned or operated by the City of Minneapolis, including Minneapolis City Hall, regardless of vaccination status.

Effective August 4, 2021 all City employees able to medically tolerate a face covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face covering in accordance with CDC guidance when inside all spaces of public accommodation located within the City of Minneapolis regardless of vaccination status.

When it comes to requiring city-wide state mandates, Mayor Jacob Frey will be staying away from those, choosing to rely instead on vaccines.

While filing for re-election Wednesday, Frey spoke with reporters, who asked if he would widen the city’s mask requirement to restaurants and retail shops. He said that he wants to avoid that at all costs and keep the city open and operating as is.

However, he said that the only way to keep the city operating is by getting as many people as possible vaccinated.

“Well, I think one of the things we need to be looking at is our legal ability to strongly — more strongly — incentivize vaccinations,” the mayor said. “I know there are a number of private institutions already that are saying, you know what, if you want to come into our private business, you got to be vaccinated yourself. I tell you what, I support that measure.”

However, some businesses have already taken it upon themselves to require masks for workers. According to the Star Tribune,

Hennepin and Ramsey counties reinstated their mask mandates in county facilities as well Tuesday, a day after Target, Cub Foods and other retailers required masks for employees and encouraged them for customers in areas with high coronavirus transmission levels.

Since Minnesota is no longer under an emergency, there will potentially be no state-wide mandates of any kind. However, there is a chance that mask mandates can be reinstated in most parts of the state. In fact, some of our major cities –– Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul –– have already announced they will start requiring masks for all students and teachers in public schools.

Mask mandates –– especially the ones restricted to specific areas –– are, of course, not as strenuous as full-blown lockdowns in as far as COVID-19 policies are concerned. But they regardless have their own costs.

For students, for example, masks have a negative impact on learning.

…covering the lower half of the face reduces the ability to communicate, interpret, and mimic the expressions of those with whom we interact. Positive emotions become less recognizable, and negative emotions are amplified. Emotional mimicry, contagion, and emotionality in general are reduced and (thereby) bonding between teachers and learners, group cohesion, and learning – of which emotions are a major driver.

This is, however, something that has been barely mentioned as states and cities move to instate mask mandates in light of the CDC’s guide on masks.

But given what we know about COVID-19, its risk factors, and all the costs associated with most policies geared towards reducing transmission, it would be a huge mistake for Minnesota to return to an era of rulemaking that places little regard on all the costs associated with such rules. Mask mandates, for example, have had little impact on COVID-19 outcomes but impinge on many people’s lives, yet that fact has been hardly talked about.

And given that vaccinations have proved to be effective in reducing transmission as well as severe cases of hospitalization, there is little need for most of these other policies. Focusing on getting individuals vaccinated provides a much better solution to addressing health concerns associated with the pandemic.

COVID-19 restrictions have already proved costly. The Delta Variant should not be an excuse to once again impose these costs on greater segments of the population, who for the most part face little risk of severe illness or death from contracting COVID-19.