A Look at D.C. Data Raises Big Questions About New Government Mask Directives

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Biden team has been pushing masking again — even if a person is fully vaccinated — in areas where the Delta variant is allegedly “surging” or substantial, which was supposedly covering most of the country.


But what does that even mean? What counts as “substantial” or “high,” the two categories that they’re saying will trigger the masking guidance? Those are the dark areas on the map.

Washington D.C. just declared themselves at “substantial” risk for Wuhan coronavirus transmission two days ago. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a directive saying that everyone over 2 years of age has to wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status. Bowser said that she knows people “will embrace this.” I wouldn’t bet on it, even with how incredibly liberal D.C. is.

But because of that, now masks are back on in the White House and in the House (although not the Senate yet).

NPR explains the map I cite above and how they measure getting to “substantial,” the minimum to trigger the masking guidance.

The data for this map comes from the CDC and is updated regularly. The color-coding is based on two metrics: the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive in a seven-day period. (A high positivity rate indicates that the number of infections in a place may be high and that more testing needs to be done.)

If those two metrics show different levels of transmission in a given place, the CDC selects the higher level. Nearly two-thirds of counties in the country are experiencing substantial or high transmission as of late July.

The CDC classifies a community as having “substantial transmission” if there are 50 to 99 weekly cases per 100,000 residents or if the positivity rate is between 8.0 and 9.9% in the last seven days.


So if there are 50 cases out of 100,000, they consider that “substantial.” Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how that is “substantial.”

Plus there’s a big piece missing here — what always seems to be missing when they’re talking about the virus. They’re always talking about cases or testing positive. But the thing that has real effect or that really matters is the hospitalizations and the deaths. Everything else is part of the over 99% that recover and don’t really tax the system.

So what do the hospitalizations and deaths from the virus look like in D.C. right now? Let’s take a look at D.C.’s stats for yesterday.

So for perspective, it’s 21 total hospitalized yesterday. Hardly overwhelming, right? Just so you know what that means in context, you can check out the last few months and scroll through how many were hospitalized each day since May 13, when Biden said you no longer had to wear masks if vaccinated. Virtually every other day since May 13 is higher than 21. There were a couple of 20s. But May, for example, ran between the 60s to 90s.


Here’s May 13, when Biden dropped the masks and said we no longer had to wear them if we were vaccinated, when the total number of hospitalizations was 93, far more than 21. It’s dropped successively since May.

How about deaths? Right now, according to the CDC, there is a seven-day rolling average of zero deaths in D.C. It was running around three in May. So zero apparently now equals “substantial” in this kind of speak.

There is generally a delay factor between getting the virus and then the rise in hospitalizations/deaths. Yet the D.C. hospitalization numbers don’t show the numbers climbing in D.C. since the Delta variant was announced to be in the U.S. in March, or even since people started really taking it seriously last month. The numbers have been dropping since at least May.

Further, there was this very interesting comment from Joe Biden that I previously reported.


So if we’re not talking about a comparable rise in hospitalizations or deaths, then what are we talking about here? Why are we suddenly back as though we were talking about last year? What’s going on here?


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