San Francisco Mayor London Breed has again flouted the pandemic-control measures she previously insisted everyone else follow. She's a hypocrite for doing so, but her behavior illustrates an important lesson about the risk posed by COVID-19.
“We don’t need the fun police to come in and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said after she was spotted maskless in a crowded nightclub last Thursday. “My drink was sitting at the table,” she added. “I got up and started dancing because i was feeling the spirit and I wasn’t thinking about a mask.”
The media have already pointed out the obvious: as the executive of a city with a vaccine passport and mask mandate, Breed is a shameless hypocrite, and its not her first time flouting California's infection-control measures. She was seen dining at the same Napa restaurant governor Gavin Newsom patronized last November.
Pointing out the hypocrisy of politicians is always a worthwhile endeavor, particularly when it so badly abuses the public's trust in mainstream science. But there's something else we can say about Breed's comments: they're 100 percent correct. With vaccines widely available and pandemic-related morbidity and mortality plummeting, the time for stringent infection-control measures has passed.
Breed and other high-profile politicians have done what everyone should be allowed to do: asses the level of risk they will tolerate and live their lives accordingly.
California is beating COVID-19
In the past two weeks, I've attended a concert in the San Francisco Bay Area with 15,000 other people, a crowded high-school football game, and a family birthday party. I've eaten at several restaurants and worked out multiple times in a busy gym, mask-free in every situation. Part of the reason is that I live in a region of California with relatively lax rules (at least for now), though the primary reasons I feel comfortable venturing out into the world are summed up in these graphs:
Even post-delta, cases and deaths in the state are down significantly. COVID-related hospitalizations are also less than half their December 2020 peak. Along with Mayor Breed and myself, seventy percent of Californians are fully vaccinated, including more than 80 percent of San Franciscans over the age of 12. These numbers from the California Department of Public Health illustrate very clearly that vaccine mandates, passports, and masks requirements are unnecessary. As I wrote in my analysis of California's now-failed statewide vaccine mandate proposal,
We mandate certain behaviors when they provide a social benefit, and the public refuses to engage in them. But this dynamic has not affected California's vaccine rollout.
Rules for everyone, or rules for no one
In light of these stats, Breed was perfectly justified in attending a concert. She was right to argue that wearing a mask in between sips of a cocktail is nonsensical; wearing a mask properly wouldn't have offered those around her much more protection. She was equally correct to say she was fully vaccinated and thus being responsible. But the question remains, why is there one set of rules for London Breed, Gavin Newsom, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Deborah Birx but a completely different set for everyone else?
Simply put, they're well-connected political figures and we're not. Fortunately, the facts don't change with your social status. Venturing into the world maskless is dangerous or it isn't. Gathering in large groups is dangerous or it isn't. The evidence is increasingly clear that these aren't particularly risky behaviors. That we're still having this conversation is, frankly, ridiculous, and you'll never guess who shares that sentiment.
“The fact that this is even a story is sad,” Breed told the local CBS affiliate in defense of her nightlife activities. She's right, but for the wrong reasons. The scandal should go away—and it would if the city looked at the data and ended the unnecessary restrictions. “I hope people will spend more time enjoying San Francisco,” she added. As a lifelong Californian, I would love to. But until the pointless rules Breed won't follow go away, I'd rather spend my time (and my money) somewhere else.