- - Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Not being a touchy-feely sort, I was into social distancing before social distancing was cool. Not so much regarding masks, but I wear one in stores even in states where they are not required as a courtesy to those people who are worried about COVID-19 infection. But this brings up the question of what to do after there is a government-approved vaccine.

If polls are to be believed, about half the nation’s population will not take the vaccine. Sen. Kamala Harris says she will not be inoculated if President Trump recommends it. This brings up the question of public policy. Will an approved vaccine be made mandatory nationwide? If not, will lockdowns and masks remain mandatory along with limits on attendance at public events and the number of patrons allowed in bars and restaurants?

This is not an inconsequential issue. States such as New York with severe restrictions are set to lose upwards of 60 percent of their restaurant industry within the year if relief is not forthcoming. Distance learning is threatening to produce an undereducated generation; this is particularly true among minorities, the poor and other groups with limited or no Internet access. If projections are true, we may have to begin wrestling with these issues by late November.

Who should be required to take the vaccine? Health care professionals — particularly those dealing with the elderly — and the military should, but vaccination should be voluntary for the rest of the population. I will take it as soon as it is offered.

Nevertheless, those who opt out should not be given any special consideration. They can take their chances or continue to bubble wrap themselves if they so desire. Those who want to continue to work from home and home school should do so, but no special treatment should be given. That means no Zoom classes or special Zoom meetings should be allowed for public education or conferences. Sporting events and concerts should resume without social distancing, and movie theaters should reopen with no mask requirements. The same should hold true with airlines and public transportation.

These limitations should not be set in place immediately. Best case, it will take at least three months from emergency approval before enough vaccine is available for all those who are required or want it to be vaccinated. After that grace period, any federal restrictions on gatherings and mask requirements should be lifted. Obviously, states are free to keep restrictions as their governments see fit. But national public policy should be able to get beyond the economic restrictions that are devastating small business, strangling education and causing unprecedented mental health crisis — particularly among the elderly who have been separated from loved ones for months.

Like him or lump him Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently acknowledged the toll that lockdowns take in a “60 Minutes” interview and said that he would only recommend another national lockdown in the direst of circumstances. There is a difference between prudence and babying an entire population. New York, California and Michigan have tried babying, and it is not surprising that large elements of their populations are drifting into civil disobedience and — in some cases — open revolt. The plots against the governor of Michigan are extreme cases and such behavior cannot be tolerated, but governors and other officials who overplay their hands weaken respect for the rule of law; and that is a slippery slope.

If there is any good to come out of the current pandemic, it has certainly improved public hygiene in this nation and probably the world. It has also raised the level of public consciousness regarding having a reserve of protective gear and medical supplies in the event of a future biological incident. What it has not done is  create a consensus among Americans about the best way to handle a biological emergency. When I was in the business of looking at military futures, I did not think that any rational foe would use a biological threat as a weapon of deterrence. Having watched what this lockdown did to the American economy and morale, I am not so sure.

Some cynics believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will magically disappear after Nov. 3, and that it has largely been a left-wing plot to discredit President Trump. I am not willing to go that far, but I am prepared to bet that media coverage will decrease significantly because it will no longer be a useful tool with which left-leaning politicians and media can exploit public misery.

• Gary Anderson lectures on Alternative Analysis at the graduate level.

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