By Soorin Kim
Florida judge Kathryn Mizelle struck down the Center for Disease Control’s enforcement of masks while on public transit. This decision came in mid-April. While being celebrated as an individualist hero by her conservative party, liberal masking advocates are harshly criticizing her choice and its consequences for the spread of disease in this country.
Mizelle claims that the CDC is exceeding its power in violating the Administrative Procedure Act, a piece of legislation that requires the government agency to disclose the evidence motivating its decision to enforce masks beyond the date which the department originally said masking on transportation could end.
The rapidity with which Mizelle’s decision was carried out was shocking to many Covid regulation supporters. A conclusion to an issue like this might have taken weeks of heated debate in a less partisan past. However, within 24 hours, the announcements were coming over plane intercoms and flight attendants walked down the aisles with garbage bags into which triumphant passengers discarded their masks to cheers and applause.
Many have reacted in an uproar to these developments, arguing that Mizelle, with her lack of knowledge of immunopathology and epidemiology, is in no position to remove the masking requirement solely on the failure of the CDC to file a statement at the right time. Her actions had to do with the bureaucratic and impersonal side of government but will go on to have an undeniable, biological and possibly fatal effect on the population.
However, Mizelle is not the only one who has been attempting to end masks in such risky areas as trains and commercial flights. So far, 21 states have sued the Biden administration to end the federal mask mandate on public transportation. Airline CEOs have also called on the president to allow passengers to board bare-faced once again. Private ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have already taken it upon themselves to lift their previous mask rules in their cars for drivers and riders.
Despite all the push back to end restrictions earlier, the CDC remains firm in its stance to extend mask mandates in these areas. In the face of the new BA.2 subvariant, the public health department is anxious to keep another huge wave of cases from cropping up in the cramped and poorly ventilated spaces of subways and airplanes.
The Department of Justice is looking to overturn Mizelles’ ruling due to these health hazards. Despite strong sentiment from liberal groups that masks should stay on, will conservatives rallying for an end to restrictive measures comprise the bulk of public opinion in this torrid case where the government represents such an antagonistic power to right-wingers? Will Mizelle’s decision set a dangerous precedent in this country of eschewing the well evidenced findings of doctors and health officials in favor of wheedling out legal fine print to avoid science?
In a way, the Florida judge’s antagonism towards masking regulations — and all the support she has garnered for it — is nothing new. For years this country has been ramping up its suspicions and downright hatred for experts and professionals. The pandemic only worsened this trend as conspiracy theories and false information about the virus abounded and experts were left futilely preaching to walls.
It was inevitable that one day a person deemed inexperienced in both the legal and the medical field would make this ruling based not on scientific evidence but on the hard and fast rules of bureaucracy. Mizelle caught the health department on a technicality and used that to further the negative public opinion about the knowledgeable people we should rely on most in a pandemic, perhaps even to unrecoverable lengths.
In a time like this, who really cares about the CDC’s failure to provide evidence about the demonstrated need for masking on public transportation? Their strong recommendations to continue to wear a mask will not adversely affect anyone’s health. However, it is this country’s growing distrust of expertise and increasing taste for conspiracy-laden individualism that will eventually spell doom.
Mizelle’s newsworthy decision has only bolstered the idea that conservatives proudly promote that experts in this country are at best ineffectual nerds and at worst deceptive agents of government plots that are aiming to restrict your personal liberties through “facts” and “data.”
How can we live in a world where we cannot look to the people who have dedicated their lives to epidemiology as a source for how we should act in a pandemic? We simply can’t. There is another contagious disease abounding in America’s conservative party of arrogance. This is a deep arrogance that pervades areas of knowledge that are incredibly foreign to them, but through the help of the internet they have gained an unshakeable foundation on which to base their claims: each other.
We need to break this bubble of incoherence and get through to those who are so distrusting of the large government agencies handing down orders from on high. That begins at the personal level. If conservatives who are rallying against masks could only see the individual consequences their words and deeds are having on others — maybe even those within their own families — then they might take heed of the words of scientists once again.
From the looks of things, this country will probably have to suffer through the actions of a dubious and fearful general public for years to come as we weather this disaster.