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VICTOR JOECKS: Clark County’s mask mandate won’t change anything

The mask mandate imposed by the Clark County Commission is an exercise in futility.

On Tuesday, commissioners imposed a new masking requirement. All employees working indoors must wear masks — even if they are fully vaccinated.

Commissioners say the increase in coronavirus cases necessitates action. The county’s 14-day moving average recently topped 700 a day. In early June, it was under 135 a day. More than three-fourths of new cases come from the delta variant, which is more transmissible. It also causes more severe illnesses than the original coronavirus.

Deaths, however, have barely budged. In early June, the county averaged three new deaths a day. As of Thursday, the average is four. Deaths are a lagging indicator, so some increase may be forthcoming.

The most likely explanation for the low number of deaths, though, comes from the effectiveness of the vaccines. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent effective in preventing any symptoms. It’s even more effective at preventing hospitalizations.

Around 56 percent of eligible Nevadans have initiated vaccinations. But that number varies dramatically by age group. More than 83 percent of those 70 and older have received at least one shot. Among those in their 20s, it’s 41 percent.

This disparity corresponds to the elevated risk the coronavirus poses to older Nevadans. Those 70 and older account for almost 3,600 of Nevada’s nearly 5,800 deaths. That’s more than 60 percent. Remember, the vast majority of those deaths happened before vaccines were available. In contrast, just 31 Nevadans in their 20s have died from coronavirus.

These statistics complicate the national mainstream media’s narrative that vaccine hesitancy is driven mainly or solely by Republican opposition to vaccines. That’s undoubtedly a factor in red states. But heavily Democratic Clark County isn’t exactly a hotbed of young Trump supporters.

Now consider the mask mandate. In June 2020, Gov. Steve Sisolak imposed a statewide mask mandate on those going out in public. Last year, he also imposed capacity limits on businesses. Those mandates didn’t prevent a summer and winter surge. If those more stringent requirements failed to prevent seasonal case increases, this new mandate won’t either.

Still, there are a few reasons virtue signaling may be useful in this case. First, Las Vegas needs tourists. Being a coronavirus hot spot isn’t great PR, even if the crowds don’t show signs of letting up. The mandate signals the county is attempting to address the issue.

Next, it gives them cover politically. They did something, which many voters embrace even if it’s useless. Last year, cases peaked in mid-July. If that happens again, they can take credit for the decline.

Finally, it makes it much harder for Sisolak to impose even tighter restrictions on Clark County. His fellow Democrats have already taken action.

The real downside here is the county’s mandate undercuts the message that vaccines are highly effective — which they are. Sisolak’s edicts still require unvaccinated people to mask up in public, although that appears to be widely ignored.

Regardless of what you think about masks, vaccinated people don’t have a responsibility to keep unvaccinated people from catching the coronavirus.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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