Masks and vaccination, yes. Reusable shopping bags and recycling compost, no.
by Tom Evslin
Government should not use its authority to mandate promiscuously. Personal freedom does demand respect and deference. Overuse of mandates – especially mandates which aren’t or can’t be enforced – causes disrespect both for government and for those mandates which are essential. Moreover, to be effective mandates must be tailored as narrowly as possible.
After a reasonable wait to see if voluntary actions would be enough, Governor Phil Scott imposed a limited mask mandate on Vermont. We have the lowest infection rate in the nation, which fact, interestingly, can be used as an argument for or against a mask mandate. The problem with our mask mandate, though, is lack of enforcement. I think our mandate should be only for enclosed places other than homes because that’s where there’s the most danger. The primary burden of enforcement should be on the owner of the space.
Accepting the limit on personal freedom of a mask mandate to reduce transmission rate is one way to allow us to increase risk by the necessary action of resuming in-person school.
Store owners will object, reasonably, that they don’t want to be in the business of turning away customers and that some customers will react with extreme anger. However, these arguments don’t stop us from having stores enforce the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and alcohol (both too high in my opinion), no-smoking prohibitions, and various health department regulations.
To make things easier on the stores and reduce their burden, we should re-allow them to give their customers plastic bags if they want to. During the early days of the pandemic we reasonably forbade store clerks from packing possibly contaminated reusable bags. Then we allowed a ban on non-reusable bags passed earlier to go into effect. The ban was a meaningless symbolic act even when it was passed. Our plastic bags don’t end up in the horrible Pacific plastic gyre; ocean currents don’t work that way. Our trash still goes to the dump in thick plastic garbage bags; the big plastic bags are full of all the long-lasting Styrofoam and plastic that individual food comes packaged in. The take home bags were reusable, especially as poop bags. Now I buy thicker bags for this purpose. Stores used to accept bags for recycling.
During the pandemic the ban on disposable bags is not just silly but also harmful. Virus belongs in the dump. Reusable bags are a possible vector for disease. Moreover, since the clerks can’t and shouldn’t help load customer bags, each checkout takes longer, and we spend more time together in stores.
Similarly the ban on food scraps in the trash never did make much sense. Food waste in a dump doesn’t last forever; it decomposes. When it decomposes, it releases methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas; however, many dumps including Vermont’s only commercial dump in Coventry burn the methane to produce “organic” electricity which goes into the grid. My home composting does not capture methane or produce any useful energy nor do most composting sites.
Now that food scraps can’t be bundled with the other trash, new services are being offered for curbside pickup. I applaud the entrepreneurs setting up these businesses; however, the local bears and racoons are very entrepreneurial also and often get to the food scraps before pickup and take them away free. Since the extra trips to composting sites aren’t all being done in EVs; greenhouse gasses result from the extra transportation.
When there’s a Covid-19 vaccine, it should be mandatory for going to school, day care, or college for both adult supervision and children just as masks are (medical exceptions only). Probably should be mandatory for taking public transportation as well, at least for a while. Individual freedom is preserved. You can home school your kids if you don’t want them vaccinated; you can drive if you don’t want to take public transportation. What you can’t do is freeload on the herd immunity earned by other people getting vaccinated and expose everyone else to your possibly infectious self. The societal reward for this mandate is huge and includes the quick end to other mandates like masks and prohibitions on large gatherings.
While we don’t have a C19 vaccine, this year’s flu vaccine should be mandated in the same way. The flu is now more dangerous societally than it was pre-pandemic. Since symptoms for the two respiratory diseases are the same, flu cases threaten to both cause unnecessary alarm and overwhelm test facilities needed for a possible Fall resurgence of C19. Medical facilities can be overwhelmed by cases resulting from the two different viruses; and it seems likely that people weakened by flu will be more prone to C19 and in more danger should they get infected.
Flu vaccine is available now. There is no reason to wait for a mandate to get your shot.
Let’s lose the unnecessary mandates while we enforce mandates on what is necessary.
(Republished from the 8/31/2020 “Fractals of Change.” Opinions not necessarily those of Vermont Daily. Comments welcome.)
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