Authentic liberty

The U.S. is beating COVID because of rational compliance, not irrational defiance

(Image credit: David Ryder/Getty Images)

Liberty. It's busting out all over. Isn't it glorious? Vaccinated people are pouring into the streets and parks, their unmasked faces radiating joy and relief. Friends are hugging. Kids are racing into grandparents' eager arms. Restaurants and bars are booming again. Baseball and basketball stadiums are putting real fans in the seats instead of cardboard cutouts. Concerts and theater are coming back. Some of us are even looking forward to returning to our offices and escaping the sterile, one-dimensional jail cell of screens and video conferences. Our rebirth is hard-won, purchased by a year of mask wearing, distancing, and limited socializing, which curtailed the virus' spread while we waited for vaccines. Those precautions, epidemiologists say, prevented tens of millions of additional COVID cases in the U.S. and more than 1 million additional deaths. To see what a no-mask, no-­restriction America could have been, take a look at Brazil and India, where COVID races through the population like wildfire, lighting innumerable funeral pyres and filling acres of mass graves.

Our wait for vaccines has been rewarded with a near-­miracle. Real-world data shows that, so far, the vaccines are 99.9 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. New COVID cases and deaths have dropped to levels not seen since the early days of the pandemic. But because this is America, lifesaving vaccines desperately sought around the world have been ensnared in issues of class, race, and political tribe: Many blue states have double the vaccination rate of several red states in the South, where roughly 2 in 3 people remain unvaccinated and the virus is still finding unprotected new hosts. But for now, let us be grateful to science and to one another for the heroic sacrifices we've made for the common good. This has been nothing less than a war, with terrible casualties. We have not yet beaten COVID, but we are winning. L'Chaim. Salud. To life.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.