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We Won’t Return to Lockdown—for Better or Worse
It is not uncommon to walk into a store now and see some people fully masked, while others openly gather without masks. Given the overwhelming amount of both information and disinformation currently circulating, it can be difficult to know what one should one do or even think in these scenarios. With COVID-19 cases and variants on the rise, many residents worry about the possibility of another lockdown. After all, the UK is already on its third, Australia is on its fifth, and the rising number of cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. seems to place us on a similar trajectory.
Should the federal government shy away from a new national lockdown, individual states can still impose their own. When California began rolling out vaccine doses at the start of 2021, hope was high. By the time the state fully reopened on June 15, the mood was jubilant. Yet barely more than a month later, we’re seeing more than 7,000+ new coronavirus cases per day—four times the rate of June.
The fear is, justifiably, that quarantine is on the horizon. But while this is a rational fear, it is ultimately unfounded. While rising numbers may be anxiety-inducing, the truth is that we are not in the same place we were at this time last year.
THE FEAR IS, JUSTIFIABLY, THAT QUARANTINE IS ON THE HORIZON. BUT WHILE THIS IS A RATIONAL FEAR, IT IS ULTIMATELY UNFOUNDED.
Currently, nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose, but the federal government is poorly equipped to force states into doing anything they don’t want to do. A national shutdown is all but impossible, and it would be a political landmine for an administration already grappling with a deeply divided country to take such extreme measures. It’s no secret that red and blue states have radically different approaches to controlling (or not controlling) rising COVID cases. Florida, for example, a state with one of the most vulnerable populations, is adamantly moving forward with the opening of schools, in addition to keeping businesses and theme parks fully open with no restrictions. By contrast, California, Washington State, and other more Democratic states have embarked on a hybrid model where they are returning to mask-wearing indoors and also re-instituting restrictions in schools, but allowing businesses to operate at full capacity, which has many feeling a bit more comfortable.
There is clearly a growing divide between the north and south not only when it comes to vaccines, but also when it comes to the response to potential dangers. One sees echoes of the political divides that were reflected in the last election as states that voted more heavily for then President Trump experiencing the greatest increase in cases. And all this with the backdrop of people just now embarking on summer vacations to many of those COVID hotspots.
Unlike resistance to the first round of quarantines in 2020, which saw largely conservative cities and states pushing back against CDC recommendations due to disbelief or misinformation around the pandemic, a potential new lockdown effort would likely also meet resistance from those regions confident in their vaccination efforts. For instance, in Los Angeles, which has achieved a 70% vaccination rate, there will undoubtedly emerge a faction calling for travel restrictions to keep unvaccinated people out rather than forcing locals to give up social life altogether.
Rather than lockdown orders, residents (on both national and local levels) can expect stronger efforts to vaccinate populations, expand and expedite testing results, renew mask mandates, and implement more diligent contact tracing and social distancing.
The stark reality is that the U.S. has already leaned too far into the idea of a “post-pandemic” world for us to backpedal now. And with the patchwork and regional differences of efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated, the ability of communities to make decisions about what comes next is further complicated. No attempt to cancel music festivals, move students from campus to computers, and cancel travel plans can possibly end well. The public would much rather see the normalization of precautions like face masks and social distancing than return to the days of full-on quarantine—not that these measures are entirely without controversy, with groups filing lawsuits or else proudly flaunting their unvaccinated status rather than complying with public health guidelines.
At the core of the “new normal” will be contact tracing, on and off mask mandates, and possibly even seasonal vaccine updates. But the days of quarantine are behind us, at least in the U.S., where people barely managed it the first time around. The highly-individualist values in American society and the high degree of freedom granted to state governments wouldn’t have it any other way.
This piece originally appeared in the Jewish Journal.