McKee’s latest COVID response is management theater.
The latest impositions on the lives of Rhode Islanders from Democrat Governor Dan McKee to make a show of doing something about COVID-19 raise two sequential questions:
- When did we all agree that the role of government is to enforce blanket rules for responsible behavior, rather than to safeguard rights and help manage the conflicting claims to which freedom can lead?
- To the extent that is government’s role, under what authority, or even reasonable standard, does the government force private businesses to act on its behalf to enforce those blanket rules?
Specifically, starting Monday, McKee has decreed that all indoor venues with a capacity of more than 250 people must enforce a mask mandate for everybody who enters the building.
Smaller establishments arguably get a worse deal: they can dangle mask freedom in front of customers if they either state that all employees and customers must be vaccinated or check everybody’s proof of vaccination at the door. This is a recipe for expense, revenue loss, and conflict no matter which option they choose.
Businesses of all sizes that do not have customers entering the premises in that way must follow the small-venue rules, mandating masks, mandating vaccines, or requiring proof of vaccination to avoid masks.
This policy is designed to allow a politician to claim that he has taken action while ensuring that other people take as much direct blame as he can offload. One wonders if his health and economic advisors gave any thought to the likely effects. One needn’t break out the social science research and build a spreadsheet-based model to predict that the people who will comply with the option-based mandate will be much more likely to have been vaccinated, anyway. Meanwhile, those who are not vaccinated will either dare businesses to card them or deprive those businesses of revenue and employees.
This problem of superficial consideration affects the other components of McKee’s “comprehensive” plan, too. On the testing front, McKee recognizes that labs are taking ridiculously long to return test results, but his solution is to distribute free home-based rapid tests. Unfortunately, these tests provide almost no value when it comes to mandates; only the slow PCR tests do that. For this provision to do any good whatsoever, McKee would have to require that organizations accept rapid tests in some circumstances. The fear mongers claim they aren’t reliable, but they are reasonably reliable when the person has symptoms, as a way to tell whether COVID is the cause of those symptoms.
Similarly, McKee announced a handful of additional public school districts that will be able to utilize “test and stay” policies so that students who have had close contact with others who tested positive for COVID can use a rapid test each morning for 10 days and stay in school if they have no symptoms. There are two catches, though. A source in one school tells me that this policy only applies if the close contact was in the school, not at home or elsewhere. Moreover, as stated above, the rapid tests are least reliable when a person has no symptoms. If the goal is to manage a disease rather than manage the government mandates, this is little better than a waste of money.
Unfortunately, nobody in this state wants to show the leadership to accept responsibility for the reality of risk, with the notable exception of Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin. He “encourages” Catholics to follow guidance for masking and to be vaccinated, but he affirms that “no individual should be turned away from Mass or singled out if they choose not to wear a mask.” In fact, Tobin goes farther, to affirm that “individuals may have good and substantive reasons for not doing so” while also insisting that “liturgical ministers… are not expected to wear masks while actively participating in the liturgy.”
Reading the bishop’s statement, one suspects that his “fervent prayers that Almighty God will lift this terrible pandemic from our midst” applies, as well, to the pandemic of government overreach.
Featured image by Sebastiaan Stam on Unsplash.