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What is the point where elected officials have killed their credibility?

November 18, 2021, 11:41 AM

Starting Saturday, November 20, Montgomery County, Maryland implements mask mandate number three.  This is based on rules that the Montgomery County council, sitting as the Board of Health, determined in August and October, where seven consecutive days of “substantial” COVID-19 transmission by CDC guidelines (50-100 cases per 100,000 people), based on raw case counts, automatically triggers an indoor mask mandate, and seven consecutive days of “moderate” COVID-19 transmission by CDC guidelines (fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people), again based on raw case counts, automatically rescinds an indoor mask mandate.  This continues until 85% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  The result of this auto-on, auto-off policy has been a yo-yo effect, where it’s masks one week and no masks the next.

For some history on this, the Montgomery County government first implemented a mask mandate in April 2020, not long before the governor issued a statewide mask mandate.  That mandate was rescinded in May 2021 when everyone else did after the CDC said that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks anymore.  When the county had reached a 50% vaccination rate, they abandoned their own COVID rules and began following the state’s guidance instead, which included no more masks and a full reopening of everything.  Then in August, after the CDC revised its guidance again, and the county council watched as case numbers went up, Montgomery County started implementing its own rules again separate from the state, and brought back the mask mandate.  The idea was that the mask mandate would last until there were seven consecutive days of “moderate” transmission, after which time it would automatically be rescinded.  This happened in late October, and the mask mandate was rescinded effective Thursday, October 28.

Right after this is where they started to shoot their credibility, and it demonstrates what is wrong with looking at raw case numbers as a metric for determining public policy.  On October 30, two days after the mandate was rescinded, they were already talking about reinstating the mask mandate, as they soon returned to “substantial” transmission territory, and announced a return to masks less than a week after they were rescinded, to be effective on Wednesday, November 3 (i.e. six days from rescission to reimplementation).

Shortly after this announcement, someone on the Montgomery County subreddit posted this meme, based on the TV drama Squid Game, which described the situation pretty well:

MASK ON MASK OFF, based on "Squid Game"

And much to my surprise, it actually got upvotes, unlike most previous posts there that took a dim view of measures taken ostensibly to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which get downvoted to oblivion very quickly.

In any case, the county soon changed its rules for reinstatement of masks, which was something of a mixed bag.  It averted an immediate reinstatement, but we weren’t out of the woods by any means.  Now, it required seven days of “substantial” transmission, and masks would automatically be reinstated.  That seven-day threshold was reached this week, and the county announced that masks were back in force as of Saturday, November 20.  For those keeping track, that meant that the mask mandate was rescinded for only 23 days, or a little more than three weeks.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s ridiculous.  First of all, I find masks as a mitigation measure for regular use by the general public to be a step too far.  I said this about it back in May:

The problem with masks and the way that they were presented, and why everyone was being made to wear one was that, as the narrative went, we were not wearing them to protect ourselves.  We were allegedly wearing them to protect everyone else from us, and it does nothing at all for the wearer except fog up their glasses.  In other words, we were being asked to literally save the world by wearing a mask.  I considered that a ridiculous ask, especially if we were already supposed to social distance (if the virus allegedly can’t travel more than six feet in the first place, what’s the point of wearing a mask?).  That also meant that it failed the “What’s in this for me?” test.  If my mask doesn’t do anything to protect me, and my own protection requires the full compliance of every single other person in the world to be effective, then I don’t get any benefit from this, and I’m also not doing this out of a feeling of selflessness.

In other words, masks, as implemented, are security theater and nothing more, serving as something of a protective talisman for a certain subset of the population.  I take a very dim view of security theater, whether it’s to fight terrorism or prevent the spread of a virus.  Especially so when the county government has now become a one-trick pony when it comes to alleged mitigation measures, and masks are that one trick.  It’s like they say: if the only tool you have is a hammer, you will start treating all of your problems like a nail.  Any time that they feel like they need to show that they’re doing something when it comes to COVID, they haul out the masks, and put the pandemic right in your face, as well as on your face.  Masks have become the end-all for alleged protection, as people have shown that they won’t stand for any of the other measures that have been taken.  Social distancing is over.  Lockdowns and closures are over.  One-way traffic is over.  Masks are the only thing that they have left, and they’re holding onto it for dear life.

I also don’t like the way that this is all based on raw case numbers.  According to the way that the vaccines are being described, you can still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, but it makes it much milder, i.e. you are unlikely to have serious complications, and it’s reduced to something akin to the common cold, if that.  In other words, these folks are not putting any additional burden on the healthcare system or anything.  They get it, they recover on their own, and then they’re over it, just like the flu.  There will never be zero COVID.  It’s never going away, and has become endemic, just like the flu.  We don’t hang onto individual flu cases and try to adjust everyone’s behavior every year come flu season, and this should be no different.

Even more infuriating, though, is that based on the way that the Montgomery County government has structured these rules about when changes in the mask mandates are triggered, it’s hard not to view this as a form of collective punishment.  The way the idea goes is that if we all behave ourselves and don’t spread the Ronies, we’ll be allowed take our masks off.  However, if we don’t behave ourselves and the Ronies get spread around, they’ll make us wear masks again because we’ve been bad.  And the punishment will continue until 85% of the total population is fully vaccinated, which not only includes people who refuse to get vaccinated, but also people who have legitimate medical reasons not to get vaccinated, and people who are ineligible to be vaccinated.  I really resent that, because I have done everything that I was supposed to do.  I got my vaccine series early, and I’m getting my booster shot next month.  Any obligations that I may have been considered to have had over COVID were fulfilled when I completed the series of vaccines back in March and became fully vaccinated.  There is nothing else that I can do to prevent the spread of COVID.  To ask anything more of me insinuates that the vaccines that I got didn’t make a difference.  It really reminds me of the way the teachers in my elementary school used to handle this little traffic light device that monitored noise levels in the cafeteria.  Green meant noise levels were at an acceptable level.  Yellow meant that they were higher, but still okay.  Red meant that noise levels were too high, and the device would sound a loud alarm.  We would then be told that there was to be no talking until the device went all the way back to green.  Then when it was time to put away our trays, the sound of all of the shuffling, as well as the dishwashing equipment’s starting up, would be enough to reach the red threshold and keep it there.  Thus the device’s alarm would sound continuously, and the teachers would scream, “No talking until it goes all the way back to green!” at us, even though it was something that happened every day when it was time to leave the cafeteria.  Collective punishment for things that we had no control over.  And the teachers wondered why we didn’t take them seriously when it came to behavior matters.

As far as people who refuse to get vaccinated, meaning people who are eligible to be vaccinated and have no legitimate medical reason not to, i.e. that they just don’t want to, my stance on them is simple.  As a fully vaccinated individual, I’m not worried about them, because they don’t really affect me.  I have my Rona shield, and it is well-tuned.  I disagree with their decision not to vaccinate, but it’s ultimately their decision, even if that decision is not a good one.  I don’t vilify them, nor do I view them as an enemy or an “other”.  I also don’t particularly want to know whether someone is vaccinated or not, i.e. I’m not going to ask, and also would rather they not volunteer such information, because it’s none of my business.  As far as I’m concerned, if they chose not to vaccinate, then they made their own bed and they have to lie in it, and if they get sick and die from a vaccine-preventable illness, it was their decision.  If they can’t be bothered to take the first step to help themselves, I can’t be bothered to care when they suffer the consequences of that decision.  I am also not willing to change my own lifestyle by wearing masks all the time in order to accommodate their poor decisions (because I did the right thing and got vaccinated), and I especially don’t want to hear about how much regret they have that they didn’t get vaccinated earlier now that they’re at death’s door.  Remember, it was their decision not to vaccinate.  And last I checked, should they expire, there is an historic French cemetery out in West Virginia that will be happy to take them.

I do, however, take great issue with the county council and the county executive, because they’re the ones making my life more difficult, rather than the people who didn’t get vaccinated.  My obligations regarding COVID are completed in full.  I did my part, so leave me alone.  As far as the county government is concerned, there needs to be political consequences for their continued meddling.  County executive Marc Elrich and all of the members of the county council that are not already on their way out need to be voted out come next year.  They have all earned a vote of no confidence from me, and they need to pay for this with their political careers.  I don’t have much faith that this will happen, though, considering the broken electoral system that we have in MoCo, but one can at least hope.

In any case, once mask mandate number three goes into effect on Saturday, I’m going to resume doing what I was doing during the last MoCo mask mandate, and drive from my house straight out of Montgomery County without stopping until I get to a non-mask jurisdiction (like Frederick County or Virginia) in order to do all of my errands.  There is very little in Montgomery County that I can’t do somewhere else that isn’t going to require that I wear the face diaper.  I like to think that I respect myself more than to submit to all of the micromanagement and other disrespectful nonsense related to mask mandates, so I will take my money somewhere else where I don’t have to deal with all of the crap.  I suspect that I’m not the only person who does that, too.  Remember that come election time, MoCo business owners, because your government is absolutely driving business out of the county over masks.  That’s money out of your pockets because of mask requirements.

Fortunately, though, I am getting the sense that the whole yo-yo mask mandate rules have become a bridge too far for a lot of people in Montgomery County.  Not only with the aforementioned Squid Game meme that someone posted, but other comments on the Montgomery County subreddit have expressed frustration and a sense of I-have-had-enough.  Previously, the general consensus on the Montgomery County subreddit was that they loved lockdowns, masks, and other weird pandemic rules and restrictions.  I used to remark that the people were like, “Lock me down, daddy!  Lock me down hard!  That’s right, zero COVID, harder, daddy!” as they begged the county government for more and more ridiculous security theater over this, but I feel like the tide is now turning.  I was always pretty consistent in my stance on the pandemic, and for the better part of a year and a half, my comments were getting downvoted to oblivion.  I was actually consistent enough in my stances that people would see those kinds of comments and recognize my username, and would act surprised when they actually agreed with me on something.  Now, it’s improved, as I’m getting upvotes on my comments about masks and various other security theater, because people are starting to come around.  Here’s some of what I’ve seen in the Reddit thread about the third mask mandate:

Newsflash: the vast majority of unvaccinated people would agree with you, are fully cognizant of the risks they assume, and just want to be left alone.  Now if only we could all ally against these government busibodies making shitty decisions with no basis in reality.

Why do we even care about case numbers anymore?  Everyone over the age of 12 has had more than enough opportunity to get the shot if they want it, and the 5-11s are getting vaccinated now.  If you’re vaccinated, it’s no worse than the flu.  And for the younger ones, it’s no worse than the flu even without being vaccinated.  The hospitals are nowhere close to being overwhelmed.  Open everything up and let this thing run its course.  I’m tired of protecting people who either don’t need protecting or don’t care enough to protect themselves.

When does this nonsense end?  At some point, are we going to return to our personal-choice lives??

Remember the last vaccine benchmark?  50% fully vaccinated and we do whatever the state does?  That was a lie.

Its never going to end.  Everyone is going to catch this eventually.  Everything we do is just kicking the can down the road.

At least based on these comments, it’s starting to sound like I might have been right all along.  After more than a year and a half of pandemic-related rules, people are done with it – even in Montgomery County.  And this third mandate really is Montgomery County’s just being a stick in the mud, too.  DC just got rid of its second mask mandate as Montgomery County was implementing its third, and you don’t have to go very far away from the county to find a minimal amount of masks out in the wild.  When Elyse and I recently went down to North Carolina, I could count the number of masked individuals on my hands.  Similarly, when we went up to Harrisburg last week, almost nobody was wearing masks.  In both instances, only the people that felt like masks were necessary did, i.e. everyone wearing a mask was doing so by choice, and the people that didn’t think it was necessary were going without.  In both instances, people were not dying in the streets on account of most of the population’s going maskless.  I don’t even have to go as far as Harrisburg to see a mostly maskless population, either.  Hardly anyone wears masks in neighboring Frederick County, and they’re doing just fine.  Montgomery County needs to get with it already and cut the nonsense, and move on from the pandemic – especially when the county executive can’t even be bothered to follow his own mandate, which speaks volumes about what he really thinks about all of this.

All I know is that the county council and the county executive have killed practically all of their credibility over this.  The relationship between elected officials and constituents has been damaged, and I have been given no reason to take them seriously over anything anymore.  And that’s not a good situation to be in, because no one benefits from that.