It’s not news that masking and vaccines inspire a lot of passion. At a public hearing on a proposed vaccine passport for Montgomery County, Bethany Mandel focused mainly on the politics instead of the facts. This ardent anti-masker and anti-vaccine passport activist bluntly threatened the political futures of county councilmembers who support it.
While Mandel has a legion of over 95,000 Twitter followers, it’s hard to take her threats seriously because of very high vaccination rates in Montgomery—higher than any other large county in the country—and because one suspects that people who agree with her are more likely to vote in the locally unimportant Republican primary.
Yet the County Council appears ready to go along with her, at least for now, by postponing any decision on a vaccine passport today. Instead, they will lengthen the mask mandate through the end of February. County Executive Marc Elrich has been an advocate of both masking and the vaccine passport.
The County Council will focus on the short term today, but we need to think seriously about where we go from here. As the Omicron wave begins to wind down, no one thinks COVID-19 is over.
My preference is that Maryland create a vaccine passport but allow each county to determine how their use. Some can ignore them entirely. Others can make them required for entry to various public places. A lack in uniformity is not ideal from a health point of view but it will allow our geographically large counties to pick the policy that fits them. Montgomery can go it alone if Maryland doesn’t act.
In an age where politics is increasingly divided on geographic lines, it shows respect for local preference. While Mandel obviously feels otherwise, many in Montgomery would welcome passport requirements to enter places like restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters both to reduce spread and to pressure their neighbors to get the shot.
Mandatory masking should be wound down. Weariness weighed against the reduced dangers of COVID-19 for the fully vaccinated increasingly recommends this approach. Of course, individuals should still be free to wear them. Stores should also be able to mandate them if they prefer to protect employees or to match customer preference. Rapid and PCR tests should continue to be made widely available to catch infections early both for treatment and to prevent spread.
Unfortunately, we live in an age in which each side deems winning to be of maximal importance and sees little room for compromise or that people can disagree on aspects of this. No, I’m not saying that there is reasonable debate about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines—the evidence for that is overwhelming and it’s benighted to believe otherwise. But that still leaves a lot of room for debate about how to best manage the virus at this point.
Like you, I’ll continue to follow what is happening, what others are saying and new information. But we need to start thinking about the long-term future with COVID as well as managing today.