If You Want to Imagine a Post-Covid Future, Look to Denmark
Covid restrictions may feel permanent. Denmark’s experience shows they don’t need to be.
The U.S. may be one country, but when it comes to handling Covid, it has from the start been very much a collection of states, states that have responded to the pandemic in very different ways. (And even within states, there are often dramatic differences in the policies cities and towns have adopted.) And this remains very much the case.
In some parts of the country, after all, people are taking few, if any, precautions in the form of indoor masking or social distancing, even when case rates are high and the hospitals are filled with Covid patients. In other parts of the country — often, paradoxically, those with high vaccination rates, meaning people are better protected against infection and severe illness — people are still regularly wearing masks indoors, and restaurants and movie theaters are much less crowded than they were pre-pandemic.
The restrictions that blue states, in particular, still have in place are far less significant than the ones that existed before vaccines became widely available, with indoor masking being by far the most consequential. But vaccine skeptics and critics of any type of Covid-related restrictions often point to the fact that people in places with high rates of vaccination and relatively low case numbers — like Connecticut (where I live), Massachusetts, and Maryland — are still being required to wear masks or, in some places, use vaccine passports as evidence that Covid restrictions, once put in place, are permanent.
It doesn’t matter how high vaccination rates get, this argument goes. If you put things like vaccine passports or indoor mask rules in place, public-health authorities will never let things get back to normal, because they’re obsessed with controlling the population and trying to drive case numbers down to zero (something that most scientists believe is now unlikely to happen). Better, then, to just rip the band-aid off and get rid of all restrictions.
Now, the most obvious objection to this argument is that public-health authorities already did let things get back to normal earlier this year, when, in May, the C.D.C. announced…