You may not think of your arm as being connected to your face. You may not think other people’s arms as being connected to your face either. Should you find your arm or many arms to be actually growing out of your face, then you may want to see a doctor. But Israel is showing how what goes into your and other people’s arms can affect what you have to do with your face.
As the Times of Israel has reported, for the first time in over a year, people in Israel will no longer be required to wear face masks while outdoors in public places. And it’s not simply because the government has decided to give people the “liberty” and “freedom” to spew Covid-19 coronavirus-laden respiratory droplets into the air whenever they want to do so. Instead, it’s primarily because Israel as a whole has achieved two things: they’ve gotten the number of Covid-19 cases down to more manageable levels, and they’ve gotten more than a majority of their population vaccinated against Covid-19.
In other words, they’ve “armed” over half their population with the Covid-19 vaccine which along with other methods like social distancing, testing, contact tracing, and face mask use seems to be finally containing the virus. According to the Israeli Ministry of Health, over 5.3 million Israelis have had at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 mRNA vaccine injected into their arms, and over 4.9 million in the country are now fully vaccinated. With the overall population in Israel a little over 9.3 million, that means over half the total population and over 80% of the adult population have been fully vaccinated.
At the same time, the number of Covid-19 cases have dipped from previously much higher levels. Last Friday saw only 105 new reported Covid-19 coronavirus cases with a total of 2,586 active cases. Throughout the pandemic, Israel has had at least 837,309 Covid-19 cases and 6,342 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. So the country did have harder times earlier in the pandemic but now appears to be seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
All of this doesn’t mean that Israel will be going completely bare-faced just yet. Relaxing precautions is not like microwaving a Hot Pocket. It doesn’t happen all at once, but instead progressively. People will still have to wear face masks indoors in public locations. Also, the Health Ministry still recommends wearing face masks outdoors when attending large gatherings, assuming that the gatherings are of people and not of hedgehogs. Social distancing and face mask wearing where transmission risk may be higher will continue to keep virus more at bay until even more people can get vaccinated. Vaccination and other control measures work together synergistically like avocado and, well, pretty much anything.
Nevertheless, the relaxation of the face mask mandate is the latest in Israel’s progression towards “normal.” On Sunday, they also allowed students in grades five through nine to return to in-person classes, meaning that for the first time since early 2020 all of those in 12th grade and below were back. As the Times of Israel has also reported, Israel’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash has said that the economy may fully re-open next month as long as Covid-19 coronavirus infections stay at their current levels or dip even further.
So the road to recovery is through people’s arms, namely getting Covid-19 vaccines into people’s arms, and through general containment of the virus, namely using a combination of measures to bring Covid-19 coronavirus transmission down to more manageable levels. That’s what many real public health experts in the U.S. have been saying for a long, long time. That’s what Anthony Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) was trying to tell Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) during a Congressional hearing last Wednesday. The operative word here was “trying.” The question is how much hearing and listening Jordan was actually doing at this hearing. The following Forbes video shows what happened:
Just in case you may confuse Fauci with Jordan like you may confuse a salad with a bowling ball, here’s how to tell the two apart. Fauci was the one calmly attempting to explain how getting people vaccinated and the virus under much better control are the keys to when Covid-19 precautions may be relaxed. Fauci was the one using science behind what he was saying and properly wearing his face mask over his nose and mouth throughout. Fauci was the one telling Jordan and everyone else in the room to expect “a gradual pulling back of some of the restrictions you’re talking about” when “infections per day are well below 10,000 per day.”
Jordan, on the other hand, was the one raising his voice and wearing the face mask as if it were more a grain feeder, leaving his nose exposed. Jordan was also the one interrupting Fauci over and over again and repeating words like “liberty” and “freedom” as if they were like mustard on a hot dog. All the while, Jordan didn’t seem to offer any alternative way of dealing with the Covid-19 coronavirus, which has already killed over 567,000 people in the U.S., aside from perhaps do nothing. When the Chair of the hearing Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-South Carolina) told Jordan that his time was up, Jordan kept on talking, or rather shouting, prompting Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) to say, “You need to respect the chair and shut your mouth.”
The hearing seemed to be straight out of the sets of The Karate Kid or Mean Girls. It went about as well as previous encounters between Jordan and Fauci. When real scientists like Fauci aren’t allowed to explain the way forward without being constantly interrupted, it leaves the American public confused and may simply further delay any return to normal.
Ultimately, as Israel has demonstrated, what individual businesses and people can and can’t do depends on what the country as a whole does. The need to maintain precautions such as face mask wearing and social distancing will depend on the levels of virus circulating in the community. If they remain high, such precautions will be necessary to keep them from further surging. If they can be brought down to much lower levels and enough people can be vaccinated against Covid-19, precautions can be progressively relaxed or even removed. Overall, at least 70% of the population needs to be protected against Covid-19, either through being fully vaccinated or having recovered from the infection, for the U.S. to really be able to return to normal or close to it.
Continuing to claim that mask wearing, social distancing, and other Covid-19 precautions are assaults on American freedoms and liberties would be a bit like claiming that not being able to pee or poop wherever and whenever you want to are assaults as well. If you want to pee or poop, find a bathroom. Similarly, if you want to relax Covid-19 precautions, find ways to help everyone control the spread of the virus. As long as the virus is spreading widely, everyone is at risk. Again, that’s why what goes into people’s arms will determine what has to go on people’s faces.