POLMAN: Can disease-spreading dolts be treated with reason?


I suppose this is progress: On Sunday, Trump’s vaccine “czar,” Moncef Slaoui, endorsed President-elect Biden’s plan to ask all Americans to wear masks during his first 100 days. Slaoui’s said, “I think it’s a good idea…We all need to take our precaution, have our masks…We will not all have the vaccine in our arms before May or June. So we need to be very cautious and vigilant.”

Alas, and oh so predictably, Slaoui’s message was undercut 24 hours later by his lame-duck boss, who proceeded to violate CDC guidelines by hosting a maskless ceremony in the Oval Office. How many more people will he kill on his way out?

He’s our most prominent menace to public health, but he’s hardly alone.

Two random examples: Last week, a viral photo showed maskless patrons of a popular D.C. bar whooping it up in tight quarters, all of them exercising their God-given freedom to infect. And last month, out in Oregon, a high-profile doctor named Steven LaTulippe appeared at a Trump rally and told the cultists to “take off the mask off shame” (few wore masks anyway). He also boasted that none of his clinic staffers wore masks. The cultists cheered for that one. (The state has since suspended LaTulippe’s medical license, so now he’s a martyr.)

You have to wonder how many more deaths and hospitalizations and illnesses and quarantines we must endure, on the cusp of our darkest winter, before the selfish idiots among us finally recognize their responsibility to their fellow citizens.

Actually, I remember pondering that question when the death toll hit 1,000. But now it’s 280,000, and I’m pondering anew not just because that stat is so horrific, but because one of my pen pals – a reader – has emailed me a blast of ignorance that epitomizes the worst of America.

He signed the email “Beowulf,” so let’s call him that. Beowulf was upset with a recent column where I criticized Scott Atlas, Trump’s incompetent (and now-departed) coronavirus adviser. After a few insults, Beowulf wrote:

“You are without objectivity. One example; where in this piece is the switching positions of both Fauci and the concerning masks? Why do you not say why he was originally against them? And do you know that the average mask mesh size compared to virus size is the same as that of a chain link fence and a swarm of flies?”

This is what we’re up against, folks. People like Beowulf are still assailing Anthony Fauci for what he initially said about masks way back on March 8. They’re still mimicking Trump’s fake claim that Fauci was against masks – whereas, in truth, Fauci was trying to prevent a mask shortage for health workers.

Also, at that time, the extent of asymptomatic spread was unknown. But as health authorities learned more – about the spread of the disease and the efficacy of masks – their recommendations changed. That’s called science. The CDC endorsed masks for the general public on April 3, and Fauci has confirmed that in countless interviews ever since.

Beowulf’s other argument – that the virus passes through masks with the ease of insects flying through “a chain link fence” – is a viral Facebook lie that’s persistently popular among deniers. But infectious disease expert Brian Labus, a member of Nevada’s coronavirus task force, had the best response:

“First, the viral particles don’t leave your mouth at that size. They start out larger and shrink due to evaporation. Second, they don’t come out in a nice, single-file line with the ability to navigate the mask. They all come out together, bang into each other, hit the mask and so on. Lots of them get caught. That’s the idea. Go sneeze on a window screen and see how much crap is left on it. Same idea. It doesn’t have to be perfect – we are talking about risk reduction, not risk elimination. Quit your bulls—- and put on your mask.”

That last part is what I told Beowulf, quoting Labus. I shared Labus’ refutation of the chain link lie, and explained Fauci’s stance on masks.

You might be tempted to ask me whether Beowulf was swayed by my response, but you know the answer. As Thomas Paine famously said, “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason…is like administering medicine to the dead.”

Thanks to science, there’s hope on the horizon. But alas, there’s no vaccination against ignorance.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]