Tuesday, February 15, 2022

It is time to smile

For the first time in several years I dipped my toe into Amherst politics. I zoomed into the February meeting of the Health Board, to encourage them to drop the indoor mask mandate.

And part of what I said ended up in the local newspaper. I don't want anybody to think just because I think the costs of the current mask mandate outweigh the benefits that I'm anti-vax or that personal freedom always trumps public health, so here's more of what I think.

I wrote this email to the Amherst public health director a few weeks ago:

The Omicron wave of the pandemic is cresting (and has already peaked in many parts of the world), and happily we haven't seen our health systems overwhelmed-- it seems clear now that Omicron is less severe than previous variants, especially for people like me who are fully boosted.

Amherst was early to impose masking and other mandates, and that was the right thing to do at the time. I'm writing to encourage you to be early again-- it is time to eliminate all of the "non-pharmaceutical intervention" mandates, as has been done recently in the Netherlands, Denmark, and the UK.

I think the message to the public should now be: get vaccinated and boosted. Wear a mask if you have symptoms (masks help prevent colds and flu, too!). But otherwise get on with your life-- smile and hug and go out to dinner.

Thanks for all your work during the pandemic, I hope that your jobs get a lot easier in the next few months as the pandemic turns into an endemic disease we learn to live with and (hopefully!) life gets closer to normal.

...and got a very nice response, encouraging me to comment at the Health Board meeting.

I'll expand on the point I made at that meeting: I think there are several things the health department and board of health should consider doing (and I apologize in advance if I'm mansplaining stuff that y'all have already considered in previous meetings over the last couple of years).

Indoor air quality is something we take for granted, but shouldn't. Masking rules for restaurants where patrons sit down and then eat without a mask are just plain "pandemic theater," at best giving people a false sense of security. Fresh air (or HEPA filtration) mandates would be more effective, less onerous, and probably less controversial, and could be enforced via monitoring with an inexpensive CO2-level monitor (CO2 levels are a good proxy for air quality in indoor spaces).

High-quality (N95-or-better) mask mandates make a lot of sense in places where there are lots of vulnerable people, like nursing homes or hospitals. They probably make sense every winter, when diseases like the flu or pneumonia are common.

My son's college implemented wastewater monitoring for COVID for the wastewater coming out of every dorm on campus. When a dorm turned positive, they started testing everybody in the dorm and were very effective at controlling outbreaks. I could imagine a similar program for Amherst, with wastewater monitoring of different neighborhoods and notification of residents when communicable diseases (maybe note just COVID) are detected. "We have detected high levels of the Zetacron COVID variant in your neighborhood, we encourage you to zap yourself with a Zetacron booster nasal spray if you haven't boosted yourself in the last few months" would be a spiffy use of my tax money.