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Better Late Than Never?

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eye on the news

Better Late Than Never?

The CDC and New York City put an end to two Covid mandates—for international travel and for toddler-masking—that stopped making sense a long time ago. June 14, 2022
Politics and law
Covid-19

The federal requirement for a negative Covid-19 test prior to flying into the U.S. and the New York City toddler-mask mandate have both just ended. What led to this long-overdue change? Nothing. The edicts could and should have been ended months ago. So much for “following the science.”

In its announcement of the international travel change, the CDC claimed that the pandemic in the United States had “shifted to a new phase, due to the widespread uptake of highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, the availability of effective therapeutics, and the accrual of high rates of vaccine-and infection-induced immunity.” In fact, uptake of vaccines has barely budged since the beginning of the year. The CDC’s own data show that only an additional 12 million people—roughly 3.5 percent of the population—have become fully vaccinated since January 1. Vaccinations have been flat for months.

Similarly, the accrual of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity has been stable for months. The last big surge in new Covid cases that would lead to natural immunity ended in mid-February. At that point, more than half the population had been infected. While cases have risen a bit since April, they remain relatively low compared with other points in the pandemic.

Finally, therapeutics have been widely available for a long time. There has been no recent surge in supply.

It has been three months since I noted, along with others, that the CDC air-travel mandate made no sense. Levels of vaccine and natural immunity were already high— effectively identical to current levels. And the CDC was not requiring negative tests for travelers entering the U.S. through overland routes. Ventilation systems make aircraft about the safest indoor environment anyone can be in—far safer than buses and trains. And experience has shown that travel restrictions are ineffective in combating the spread of a highly transmissible respiratory virus in a highly interconnected world.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration maintained the travel mandate at the same time (April 1) that it announced the end of Title 42, the public-health measure that barred untested, illegal immigrants from staying in the country. The CDC explained: “After considering current public health conditions and an increased availability of tools to fight COVID-19 (such as highly effective vaccines and therapeutics), the CDC Director has determined that an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary.” In other words, the same conditions prevailed then that the agency is citing now, more than three months later, to end the travel mandate.

Meantime, in New York City, just two weeks before the end of the school year, Mayor Eric Adams has finally ended the school mask mandate for children ages two to four. The city ended the general school mandate in March but continued it for toddlers, presumably because they were not eligible for vaccines. The mayor now claims to be following the science, citing “steadily falling” cases as a rationale for ending the toddler requirement.

Adams is correct that total Covid-19 cases in the city rose this spring, peaked in mid-May, and have been dropping since. But cases per 100,000 population for children up to four years old have consistently been well below the case rate of other age groups. The New York region hit the peak for hospitalization in the four-and-under group on February 26, when those cases accounted for 5 percent of Covid hospitalizations. The numbers have declined since.

The major rationale for continuing to mask toddlers—the lack of a vaccine—has not changed. Despite promising results, the FDA has not yet authorized any Covid vaccine for children under five. But the absence of vaccines was never a good justification for masking toddlers in the first place.

It has long been clear that Covid-19 poses little risk to children under five. The four-and-under age group makes up 6 percent of the U.S. population, but from March 2022 to the present it has accounted for less than 0.05 percent of Covid deaths. Total daily Covid deaths in New York City, for all ages, have been 11 or fewer since March 9. Deaths in the four-and-under age group in New York State and New York City have been minuscule throughout the pandemic.

Moreover, there is little evidence that masking students works, especially for children aged two to four, whose compliance with proper and continuous mask-wearing is doubtful. And masks likely interfere with children’s social and educational development.

In the end, it is hard to discern what motivated the termination of these two counterproductive mandates. Better late than never, one might say—but by pursuing policies divorced from the data, the CDC and New York City have undermined public confidence in expert scientific opinion.

Photo: martinedoucet/iStock

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