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Monday, January 18, 2021

A modest pandemic proposal

Presumptive President-elect Joe Biden is understandably anxious to take over the nation’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed upward of 285,000 Americans. Though like most Americans in lacking a medical degree, Mr. Biden is still qualified to wield a most effective weapon against the coronavirus: common sense. Rather than hector the robust and unhealthy alike about their lackadaisical mask-wearing, he should urge the vulnerable to follow his example until their turn arrives to be vaccinated. He arms himself with a close-fitting and precision-filtrating N-95 respirator mask and so should they. Others should be left free from heavy-handed diktats.

Americans welcome heartfelt efforts to save lives, but the Biden method thus far has more the look of fearmongering. “I don’t want to scare anybody here, but understand the facts,” said Mr. Biden, last week, scaring the audience of a virtual event. “We’re likely to lose another 250,000 people — dead — between now and January because people aren’t paying attention.”

Mr. Biden shared his equally ineffective solution in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper: “Just 100 days to mask, not forever: 100 days, and I think we’ll see a significant reduction.”

Actually, nearly all Americans are paying attention, and are covering up with masks of various materials, styles and efficacy. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in November found 87% of respondents said they wore a face mask all or most of the time when visiting stores during the preceding month — 85% said they had been doing so for at least the previous 120 days. Expecting masks to suddenly result in “a significant reduction” in coronavirus cases and deaths is wishful thinking. This sad conclusion is self-evident, except perhaps to Mr. Biden.

Lockdowns, which are proliferating once again across the nation, reduce the spread of infection, but they carry their own cost. A November study by the University of Southern California put the projected two-year COVID-19 loss to U.S. gross domestic product at $3.2 trillion-$4.8 trillion. That may be monopoly money to government, but it’s the lifeblood of small business.

Mr. Biden‘s strategy for saving lives should not focus on the 99% of Americans who ably recover from the virus, but those who might not: the sick and the elderly. A senior citizen himself, the apparent president-elect dons an N-95 respirator mask when traveling and frequently supplements it with a second, surgical mask.

The respirator masks were initially conserved for frontline health professionals, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still discourages their use by the general public. N-95s, however, are widely available. A 10-pack, for example, sells for $29 on Amazon. They mustn’t be withheld from the vulnerable.

With his signature “C’mon, man,” Mr. Biden should urge his coronavirus-prone cohorts to follow his cautious lead, while encouraging the rest of America to get busy and “build back better.” It’s common sense.

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