Editorial: Bring on the crackdown. The unvaccinated must be held accountable

·3 min read
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 27, 2021- Visitors to the Grand Central Market are mostly masked on Tuesday, July 27, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Visitors to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday are mostly masked. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Delta variant is spreading rapidly in California and nationwide, but happily so are crackdowns by public and private employers aimed at limiting the ability of their unvaccinated workers to infect others with COVID-19.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new rules requiring vaccination or regular testing and masking for the 246,000 state government employees; the rules will apply as well to workers at both private and public healthcare and long-term care facilities. Similar workforce rules have popped up around the nation, including in the city of Los Angeles.

On Thursday, President Biden said civilian federal workers and on-site contractors, too, would need to receive COVID-19 vaccination or submit to regular testing and other infection-control restrictions to remain on the job. Meanwhile, Google, Facebook and a number of other tech companies say they will require employees to be vaccinated in order to return to their desks when their offices eventually reopen.

Hooray. It's time the stubbornly unvaccinated are held to account for their part in the resurgence of COVID-19.

It's unfortunate that such measures are necessary when safe vaccines are abundant and available to eligible Americans. But responsible health officials seeking to slow infection rates have few options, none of which would be popular among pandemic conspiracists on social media and in elected office. What's more, these policies do appear to have had some effect in California, which has seen a 20% increase in inoculation rates over the last week.

Granted, many unvaccinated people, particularly Black and Latino Americans, are leery of the shots because of the government's poor track record when it comes to their communities' health. But whatever the reasons people may have for not getting vaccinated, we need to move them out of their comfort zones for the sake of their own safety — and ours.

The new COVID-19 rules prompted a predictable backlash from those who insist the Constitution gives them the freedom to infect others. (It doesn't; witness the Supreme Court decision in 1905 declaring that states could mandate smallpox vaccinations.) We have little patience with the knee-jerk naysayers who label every new pandemic policy a governmental overreach. What exactly would the government gain by asking people to put cloth over their faces to save their own lives? In what bizarro world is it an abuse of power to give people the choice of taking a free, life-saving medication or doing preventive testing to prove they aren't infectious?

Mask mandates and recommendations are returning as well — at least in places that haven’t banned them. Los Angeles County reinstated its mandate for indoor settings earlier this month. After growing pressure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course on Tuesday and issued new guidance recommending indoor mask wearing for everyone in areas with high COVID-19 infection rates, which includes about two-thirds of U.S. counties.

CDC officials said they based the revised guidance on unpublished data that found high viral loads in vaccinated people. This suggests they can spread infection, which was suspected but had yet to be proved. Experts have asked to see the data, which is reasonable, and the CDC should comply.

Even if it turns out that vaccinated people don't notably reduce the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, it's such a minor inconvenience with no downside, other than some discomfort and an odd facial tan line, that you can't properly call it a sacrifice. Besides, national crises call for this kind of selfless action even if it seems like overkill. It's distressing that so many Americans don't feel the same way.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.