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Masking for the vaccinated as a symbol of ‘solidarity’ is downright dumb

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Keeping vaccinated Americans in masks forever is the latest cause of our deranged elite opinion-makers. Even media-approved experts now acknowledge that masks on vaccinated persons serve no significant medical purpose: After all, the risk of COVID transmission among vaccinated people is minuscule. So why continue to cover up our faces?

The vaccinated have no rational reason to wear masks, neither for their own sake nor that of others. Yet the media-epidemiology industrial complex won’t let go.

Even as they acknowledge the effectiveness of vaccines, the blue-check Twitterati are now insisting on a new, non-medical justification for vaccinated masking. As The New York Times’ David Leonhardt put it in a recent column, “experts” want to keep vaccinated people masked, because masks are a “symbol of solidarity” that show that the mask-wearer is a “decent” person.

Even if you are already vaccinated and immune, you should still wear a mask “to contribute to a culture of mask wearing,” Leonhardt said, since after all being constantly masked is only a “modest inconvenience.” The unstated corollary is that vaccinated persons who go unmasked are not only indecent, but deplorable.

But why would vaccinated Americans want to parade around with such an ineffective and ambiguous symbol covering their faces? A mask is a terrible symbol if the two messages you want to send are, “Get vaccinated!” and “Don’t have irrational COVID fears!”

Insisting on wearing masks after vaccination sends mixed messages, O'Conner says.
Insisting on wearing masks after vaccination sends mixed messages, O’Conner says.
Getty Images

If you want to “symbolize” such things, get a lapel pin or print up a T-shirt. Masks on the immune symbolize irrational fear of COVID, and indeed they provoke it. Continued masking after vaccination also signals to many people that vaccination itself is ineffective and can’t be trusted. “Contribute to a culture of mask wearing” even after vaccination is a messaging disaster for the cause of mass immunization.

This desperate attempt to find some new, non-medical justification for masking vaccinated persons would all be comical if it weren’t so insulting. Media-approved “experts” who claim to promote “solidarity” or “decency” aren’t experts about solidarity or decency. Nor do they have any special or secret knowledge of how or why to deploy “symbols” of righteousness. On these topics, they are only fellow citizens, and they hold very debatable opinions.

The notion that masks on the vaccinated are only a “modest inconvenience” isn’t based on any expertise at all. Expert scientists know the importance of the human face for social cognition; expert teachers know how important face-to-face conversation is for their work; mental-health experts know the anxiety and depression provoked by masking. To ignore this expert knowledge with a groundless claim that the effects of masking are “modest” and no more than an “inconvenience” is arrogant and incompetent.

The deranged cause to keep the vaccinated masked is not an “expert” recommendation. Unmask the immune, and let the vaccinated become symbols of rationality and the triumph of modern medicine. We could use some of those.

David O’Connor is a professor of philosophy and concurrent professor of classics at the University of Notre Dame.

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