Who knew that little pieces of plastic or cloth worn over the nose and mouth could turn people into complete idiots? Masks have led us astray since the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As with many ideas and trends during COVID, Dr. Anthony Fauci was a leader. When the new coronavirus first began to spread in the USA, he argued that the general public shouldn't wear masks.
"Typical mask(s)," he wrote, are "not really effective in keeping out virus."
But that wasn't what he really thought. He instead was worried that a rush from the public to buy masks would strip them from medical professionals who were treating COVID patients.
The idiotic part is that no resource, not even masks, is more vital to public health than the credibility of leaders who during a crisis need to ask people to do unpopular or uncomfortable things like get vaccinations that were fast-tracked through the review process. Fauci lost plenty of his credibility before COVID-19 was officially a pandemic.
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Americans were then urged to wear cloth masks to save specialized medical-grade masks for the health care professionals and COVID patients. And fights over mask mandates soon spread nationwide.
Now, in light of omicron, experts are saying never mind. For instance, Dr. Lena Wen, a health policy professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health and an emergency room doctor, recently said, "Cloth masks are little more than a facial decoration."
Well, I feel like an idiot for all the times I donned a facial decoration and forced my kids to do the same.
We've now been told to wear more effective medical-grade N95 masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they're the gold standard, and in what sounds like big news, the Biden administration will distribute 400 million N95s to Americans. That's more than half our federal stockpile.
"They’re a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of a highly transmittable omicron variant," President Joe Biden said.
The great mask debate drags on
Finally, we all will have the right masks, right?
Not so fast. You'd have to be an idiot to think this was the end of the great mask debate.
Each person will be able to pick up three masks at pharmacies and other distribution sites. But in a nation of 332 million people, only about 40% of the population will be able to obtain masks from the federal stockpile before they run out.
Even then, Biden's plan to distribute masks is less than it seems. N95s can be worn a maximum of five times if they are used correctly (far from a guarantee). It turns out that those Americans who receive the masks will be unmasked again not long after their "really important tool" arrives.
And COVID-19 will still be with us.
Anyone who breathed a sigh of relief when Biden announced his N95 mask plan must feel like an idiot. I know I do.
In my home state of Virginia, our new governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin, says parents should be able to choose whether their children wear masks in school.
Youngkin signed an executive order ending mask mandates in the state's public schools. School districts in Northern Virginia and Richmond rebelled against the anti-mandate mandate, and parents in Loudoun County held a protest to cling to their masks.
Youngkin's plan won't work
After all the mask madness, I'm not sure who's right, but I do know one thing about Youngkin's plan that is pure idiocy.
His idea that parents will decide whether their kids wear masks won't be how it actually plays out in school. I know my kids, and once some of their classmates take off the masks, I have little faith that my first-grade son will keep his "facial decoration" on for long.
And I know that his overloaded and heroic teacher is in no position to police the parental wishes of 30 students throughout the day as she tries to do what she's supposed to be doing – teach.
As for me, I've had it with masks. I feel like a fool, and I am not going to play any more.
David Mastio is an opinion writer for USA TODAY. Follow him on Twitter @DavidMastio
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID and masks: Idiocy continues to run wild on public health