Weekend Jolt: Unlearning the Lessons of the Covid Pandemic

Dear Weekend Jolter,

It was not so long ago that a meta-analysis found ...

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WITH JUDSON BERGER September 02 2023
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WITH JUDSON BERGER September 02 2023

Unlearning the Lessons of the Covid Pandemic

Dear Weekend Jolter,

It was not so long ago that a meta-analysis found wearing a surgical mask "may make little to no difference in how many people caught a flu-like illness/COVID-like illness." Or that a comprehensive study found "the average U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of a half year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading," with school closures a factor.

But in discrete locations, mask mandates and other Covid-mitigation measures are starting to make a reappearance. Noah Rothman recently wrote about such protocols at Atlanta's Morris Brown College, a couple of hospitals in Syracuse, N.Y., and Santa Monica's Lionsgate studio (briefly).

It's not just masks. Two Kentucky school districts recently canceled in-person classes amid an uptick in flu and Covid-19 cases. A Texas school district did the same.

What is going on?

NR's editorial explains the impetus, and where we could be headed:

By early August, data gathered from national wastewater testing suggested a new surge of Covid infections was upon us. That metric was reinforced by rising test positivity rates and a modest but observable increase in the number of Covid-related hospitalizations. In combination with the emergence of what epidemiologists are calling a "highly mutated" variant of the virus, New York State has reassumed a posture of "high alert," with more states likely to follow suit.

With conspicuous alacrity, Covid's reemergence was swiftly accompanied by the return of "the experts," for whom humility in the face of unknowable circumstances is anathema and no precaution is too burdensome.

"I think, and I think everybody concurs, that this is very likely to be a neutralization antibody escape mutant, which means that will be harder for our bodies to protect us from infection with this variant," computational biologist Bette Korber told CNN. For these experts, the logical — indeed, unavoidable — corollary to this assessment is that the sooner Americans restore mid-pandemic mitigation measures, the better.

The passage of time, and more comprehensive analyses benefiting from it, has helped show how misguided — and damaging — many of America's original Covid restrictions were. On the other side of the ledger, certain countries (and states) demonstrated a better way of balancing public health with the range of other factors that should enter into that equation. Cato's Johan Norberg. who studied the results of Sweden's not-draconian approach, writes for NR about the major findings there: The economy beat expectations, elementary-school students did not suffer learning loss, and the excess-mortality rate was low relative to other European countries. "Individual responsibility worked," he writes. "So it was not Sweden that engaged in a reckless, unprecedented experiment, but the rest of the world, and that experiment turned out to be a disaster: Millions of people were deprived of their freedoms, and children were denied schooling, without a discernible benefit to public health."

To unlearn those lessons in favor of a Covidian revival in late 2023 would be madness.

"I'm determined that we never go through it again," MBD said on The Editors podcast this week. Considering that researchers warn school districts they aren't catching their students up nearly fast enough — by one estimate, the hardest-hit communities "would have to teach 150 percent of a typical year's worth of material for three years in a row" to recover lost ground — another round of school closures would seem to be the precise opposite of what districts need to be doing.

Hopefully, the reimposition of Covid restrictions turns out to be isolated and fleeting. This is far from guaranteed. Noah, in diligently tracking the trial balloons testing the market for Dystopia: The Sequel, issues a clarion appeal for the skeptics out there to make noise:

If the balloons float by without so much as a scoff, that will only serve as proof of concept. It's incumbent on all of us to say, loudly and unambiguously, whenever we encounter too-clever appeals to our sense of solidarity or paranoia in the effort to bring pandemic-mitigation measures back: No.

Catch up on the rest of the week’s NR coverage, right here.



Mitch McConnell has had a long, impressive run. The wheels should be turning on a leadership transition: Mitch McConnell Needs to Step Aside

The efforts to force a political story out of the Florida mass shooting are shameful: The Disgraceful Attempt to Blame DeSantis for the Jacksonville Shooting

Asa Hutchinson could set an example: Drop Out, Asa


Noah Rothman: Canada's Fashionable Lie

Tom Cotton: Lawyers Are Now Obstructing Equal Protection under the Laws

Madeleine Kearns: Why Are People Cheering Plummeting Birth Rates?

Jim Geraghty: The Horror in Bucha

Caroline Downey: Judge Rules against Female Sorority Members Who Sued after Chapter Admitted Male Student

Caroline Downey: National Archives Confirms Existence of 5,400 Emails, Records Containing Alleged VP Biden Pseudonyms

John McCormack: Jen Psaki Isn't Telling the Truth about Late-Term Abortion

Wilfred Reilly: The Maui-Disaster Narrative Is All Wrong

Rich Lowry: Yes, President Harris Is a Legitimate Issue

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Two American Childhoods

Jack Butler: Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, R.I.P.

Zach Kessel: 'The Debacle Is on His Head': Father of Marine Killed at Abbey Gate Calls on Biden to Resign over Botched Afghanistan Withdrawal


Dominic Pino revisits the absurd complaint process at the Consumer Product Safety Commission: The Struggle for a Fair Trial in the Administrative State


Armond White praises Charlotte Regan's story of a hustling child: Scrapper Revives Family Values

Brian Allen heads to the great outdoors, for a gem of a park in New Hampshire featuring sculptures and scenery to take in at your own pace: The National Park Service Celebrates Saint-Gaudens


Michael Brendan Dougherty writes about the intensification of the culture war as it pertains to our kids, and why de-escalation is sorely needed:

It is now becoming clear that conservative and progressive parents view each other as a danger to children; a danger that needs to be handled with the intervention of the law.

Conservatives have launched their successful counteroffensive in World War T, making it criminal for doctors to prescribe off-label puberty-blocking drugs or perform surgeries that remove functioning sexual organs and replace them with nonfunctional facsimiles. The media have dutifully found the progressive families who are abandoning states such as Texas and Missouri over the issue.

But liberals can play that game as well. California's attorney general sued a school district in its state for its policy of notifying parents when children request to be addressed by new pronouns or a different name. Michelle Goldberg, writing in the New York Times earlier this year, acknowledged why parents might be uncomfortable with their kids experimenting with new gender identities at school that they hide at home. But she landed on supporting the role of public schools and teachers in helping children develop private lives into which their parents cannot see.

Meanwhile, the State of Massachusetts denied a married Catholic couple the chance to foster a child because of their religious convictions. Noting that they were otherwise "lovely people," the state determined that the couple "would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTQIA." Note that it didn't even allege that the Burkes wouldn't love a child who identified as such. But consistent with the emerging view of sexual identity and harm on the progressive left, the state naturally disqualifies as proper parents anyone whose religious convictions trespass upon the total moral, legal, spiritual, and aesthetic equality of all sexual desires and the identities shaped around them. For Massachusetts, this is their bare minimum standard of care. And it will be increasingly codified into the laws of blue territories.

The sentiment of national belonging, the font of patriotism, is rooted in the idea of sharing a given territory with one another and attempting to live under the same set of laws. That's why these wars over how we raise children are so disquieting. They make it clear that we aren't arguing over matters of mere prudence anymore but over deep and divisive principles. We don't really share the laws with each other but increasingly use them to restrain those people who used to be our fellow citizens but are now defined as our political and moral antagonists. We need to find a way out of this dynamic, because if there is one thing I know, it's that parents will fight for their children unto the last breath.

Jim Geraghty is safely out of Ukraine after an extended reporting trip. As mentioned last weekend, you can catch up on his dispatches here. One of his last reports out of the country is a powerful one:

I mentioned how much I dreaded going to Bucha, site of the infamous massacre in the opening months of the war. You can imagine how I felt about going there twice.

But the previous day, the upstairs chapel of the Church of Saint Andrew and All Saints was closed, and my traveling companion believed I needed to see the photos displayed there, documenting the massacre, mass burial during the occupation, subsequent exhumation of the bodies, and documentation of war crimes. . . .

There's a big taboo in American media about showing dead bodies, and there's an even bigger taboo about showing dead bodies where you can see the faces. I completely understand why that taboo exists, and I won't break it by putting photos like that in today's newsletter. With that said, the fact that we want to turn away, or can't stand to look at it, doesn't mean it didn't happen. And I sometimes wonder if the point of the Russian barbarism and cruelty is to be so horrible that plenty of good, sensible people feel the impulse to look away. Because it is difficult to address what you cannot bring yourself to see.

We were let into the display by Titiana, an elderly woman manning the shop selling icons of saints on the floor below us. Titiana told us that during the Russian occupation, her goddaughter had gone to find food for those who were hiding in a basement. The Russians allowed her past a checkpoint, and she counted 24 corpses — some killed recently, some killed earlier — in the street in the span of one kilometer, or a little more than a half a mile. She found food, but fearing the other streets might have mines or other dangers, she had to walk back the same path, past the same 24 dead bodies. She said that in some cases, the faces had been eaten by dogs.

Titiana's son is in the Ukrainian army. She said that he texts her as often as he can, and that she heard from him yesterday. But that was the first time she had heard from him in four days, as he had been on a mission.

Titiana insisted I speak to Yevhen Olexienko, who is nicknamed "Columbo." . . . The pictures on Columbo's cell phone could keep a United Nations war-crime investigator busy for a year, and he was kind enough to show and then forward a wide variety of them to me. For every Ukrainian in these contested suburbs of Kyiv, it was dangerous just to be on the street. Columbo said he heard stories of locals who asked the Russian soldiers why they were here, and the Russian soldiers responded by shooting them. There was no "safe part of town." At one point, there were 400 Russian military vehicles in Bucha, a suburb that is roughly ten square miles.

More from NR's editorial on McConnell:

Mitch McConnell is truly a legend of the U.S. Senate. He's been one of the most effective leaders in memory, he deeply understands and cares about the institution, and he's had an outsized influence on his party for decades now.

As of the beginning of this Congress, McConnell set the record for the longest-serving party leader in the history of the Senate. (To mark the occasion, he gave a typically thoughtful speech on the prior holder of the record, the Montana Democrat Mike Mansfield.)

But the time has come for the Kentucky senator, after his long, impressive run, to make the decision to step aside from leadership.

McConnell has now frozen up during two recent press availabilities. His staff has said he was just suffering from bouts of lightheadedness, and a public note from his doctor suggested the same. To the layman, the incidents looked more concerning than that. Regardless, this obviously is not normal and affects his ability to function as the leading representative of his caucus.

McConnell has noticeably aged since his bad fall in March, when he sustained a concussion and broken rib, and he should want, for his own sake and that of his colleagues, to go out on his own terms.


John Tierney, at City Journal: No Masks, Please, We're Rational

Jessica Garrison, at the Los Angeles Times: Nordstrom closes San Francisco store on grim note amid naked mannequins, empty display cases

Karol Markowicz, at the New York Post: AP's abhorrent slander that DeSantis is somehow to blame for a racist killing


Given that Oliver Anthony's song kicked off the GOP primary debate, it was ripe for a Remy send-up. Well, he has created one, and . . . it is hilarious. Please do enjoy "Rich Men North of Richmond (Federal Employee Version)."

Thanks for reading, and have a fine holiday weekend.


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