Resistance to the return of mask orders in St. Louis city and county is coming mostly from the political right — ironic, since it’s conservatives’ refusal to get vaccinated that has spiked new coronavirus cases and forced the return of masks. Those who’ve taken the responsible course are rightly losing patience with the those who refuse vaccination, out of factual ignorance, misguided definitions of “freedom,” or whatever. The unvaccinated are ultimately responsible for the fact that much of the nation, including Missouri, is currently losing against a virus that, just a few months ago, was on a sharp decline.
Rational society isn’t helpless here. Vaccines can’t and shouldn’t be forced upon people, but there’s nothing to prevent private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination before allowing people to enter restaurants and other venues. They should.
The correlation between the refusal to vaccinate and the spread of the delta variant couldn’t be clearer. In Missouri, just 41% of residents are fully vaccinated, compared to a national average of about half. No wonder Missouri recently saw a seven-day average of more than 2,400 new cases, a level unseen since January. Southwest Missouri, a conservative hotbed of anti-vaccination zealotry, has been especially hard-hit, necessitating last week’s mobilization by the state of ambulance strike teams to the region to assist overwhelmed hospitals.
Almost all the new infections have been among those who have refused vaccination.
In response, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Monday imposed renewed indoor mask mandates. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt promptly threatened to sue in order to “stop this insanity.” If only he would aim that message at the anti-vaccine insanity of his fellow Republicans.
That said, mask mandates may be of limited value now, because almost all the viral spread is coming from the unvaccinated, who are the very people most likely to ignore the mandates. A more effective approach would be for the private sector to lead by requiring that patrons show their vaccination cards before allowing them inside.
The anti-vaccination crowd would scream bloody murder. Let them. There is long historical precedent for proof of vaccination as a condition of participating in society — schools have required basic immunization for enrollment for generations — and a federal court recently upheld Indiana University’s coronavirus vaccination requirement for students and staff. If public universities can bar those who would endanger the lives of their fellow students, a privately owned restaurant, grocery store or gym can certainly set the same standard for its patrons.
Unfortunately, it would likely take even more dramatic spikes in illness and death for many business owners to wade that deeply into the culture wars, risking conservative backlash to protect their patrons. If and when that tragic tipping point arrives, that, too, would be courtesy of the superspreaders of the right.