In the early days of the pandemic, American public health experts warned people against wearing them. Officials weren’t sure how easily the coronavirus spread between people and were concerned that widespread mask-wearing would deplete the scarce protective equipment front-line health workers needed.
Weeks later, the scientists reversed course and advocated that everyone wear masks, a recommendation that helped slow the spread of the virus, but was politicized when prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, cast doubt on how well they worked.
Now there is an even better safeguard against the disease — safe and effective vaccines. On Thursday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surprised many with a sweeping announcement: it’s OK for fully vaccinated people to take off their masks in most settings. (People whose immune systems are compromised should check with their doctors first, the agency said.)
Changing the guidance is one thing. Getting people who have spent a year wearing face-coverings to adapt to the new rules — which still require masks in transportation and health care settings — is another. And there’s no outward way to tell who has been vaccinated and who has not.
The CDC’s encouragement for vaccinated people to drop their masks may act as an incentive for more people to get the shot, though the agency said that wasn’t the reason for the change — it cited scientific studies showing the effectiveness of the vaccines. The change came as governments and businesses have unveiled a range of more tangible inducements, from free doughnuts and drinks to time off and cash bonuses. The ultimate example arrived this week when the state of Ohio announced it would award a million dollars each week for five weeks to the winners of a special lottery-style drawing if they’re vaccinated.
He added, “While people can do what they want with their own bodies, that doesn’t include the right to carry a deadly disease into public spaces. The way to get people vaccinated should be simply to require vaccination or documented medical exemption in order to return to schools, businesses, and crowded public spaces.”
Trump and the ouster of Liz Cheney
On the surface, Donald Trump’s sway over the Republican Party, demonstrated this week by the ouster of his critic Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from the House party leadership, doesn’t make historical sense. He is a defeated one-term president, on a par with Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, whose records were seen by their contemporaries as examples of how not to govern successfully.
“The biggest challenge that one-term presidents have faced with their party is that after losing, they are seen as losers,” wrote historian Julian Zelizer. “Party leaders don’t want to invest in their future and often conclude that their record explained the outcome. Not with Trump.” The reason: he promoted the lie that the election was stolen from him and “a majority of Republicans bought the lie.”
At the same time, a new survey made clear where most Americans are politically. In the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, 63% approved of the job President Joe Biden is doing and 71% gave him high marks for his handling of the pandemic, including 47% of Republicans, Jill Filipovic noted.
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What we can’t count on
On May 7, a ransomware attack led operators to shut down a 5,500-mile pipeline that carries fuel from Texas through the south and up the East Coast. Fearing a gas shortage, drivers rushed to fill their tanks, and in some states service stations ran out of fuel.
Four days later, engineers inspecting a heavily used bridge in Memphis, Tennessee discovered a crack that forced them to close a six-lane artery that carries 45,000 vehicles a day over the Mississippi River. Hundreds of barges were stranded when authorities halted traffic on the river.
In the best of times, systems that enable travel and the rest of our complicated lives hum along so smoothly that we imagine we can always rely on them. But at these moments, they take on the ephemeral quality Prospero describes in Shakespeare’s “Tempest” — the actors “were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air…the cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself … shall dissolve,” leaving nothing behind.
“At one level, Americans love their cars — they are a sign of freedom and the open road,” Jacobs wrote. “At another, we created a suburban landscape that depends on driving everywhere. Americans drive more miles and do so alone more than citizens of any other country.”
She noted: “We’ve seen this dance before. If you are of a certain age, you surely recall sitting in the back of your family’s station wagon (with no seatbelts of course) waiting hours on end in the 1970s to get a gallon of gas.”
New technology hasn’t solved the problem, Vishwanath wrote, because it doesn’t sufficiently address the vulnerability of users. Attackers gain access to computer networks by “using spear phishing that deceives users into clicking on a malicious hyperlink or attachment.” Companies need to do a better job of evaluating and training workers to beware of cyber risks, he argued.
In search of peace
As David A. Andelman noted, it was only last year that “former President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled their peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians at the White House…”
Tulsa massacre, a century later
One hundred years ago this month, Rebecca Brown Crutcher fled the Greenwood community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, “in fear of her life as White Tulsans burned her neighborhood to the ground,” wrote her great-granddaughter, Tiffany Crutcher. “On May 31 and June 1, 1921, White gangs flooded into the thriving Greenwood neighborhood and murdered up to 300 Black men, women and children.” The attackers burned 1,500 homes, leaving 10,000 Black residents homeless; they destroyed more than 600 “businesses, and places of worship, healing, learning and gathering.”
To compound the crime, “to this day, not one person has ever been held accountable and not a single cent of reparations has been paid to the survivors or the victims’ descendants,” Crutcher wrote.
John Goodrich, chief scientist for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, survived a mauling by a wild tiger. So he knows the danger of keeping big cats in private hands.
There are only about 3,900 tigers left in the wild, a tiny fraction of the number a century ago, Goodrich wrote. “By some estimates, there are twice that many in captivity in the US. Tigers belong in forests, savannas, and mangrove swamps, not in backyards, not in selfies, and certainly not in a Houston neighborhood.”