“I think we’re leaving the state better than we found it – which, given the fact that there was a pandemic in the middle of it, we think is pretty cool.”
-Gov. Charlie Baker on GBH Radio reflecting on his eight years in office
What’s wrong with this picture?
There’s no doubt a solid majority of voters approve of the governor’s performance. But while we don’t want to be the skunk at the retirement party, a fact check is in order.
For starters, referring to the pandemic in the past tense is a major red flag.
According to the state’s own data, there were almost 9,000 new confirmed or probable cases in the week ending Dec. 7, a tip-of-the-iceberg number at a time when there is no reliable tracking. Seven-day positivity rate: 7.85 percent; 5 percent is considered too high.
While the average age of the dozens who’ve died in the past fortnight is 80, it’s people aged 20-40 who lead all age groups in confirmed cases. Wastewater COVID-19 rates are rising. And while Massachusetts can justifiably boast of its nation-leading 93 percent one-dose vaccination rate, the 61 percent booster rate is not quite so boffo.
As Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota puts it: “The virus is still in the driver’s seat.”
New York City is already urging all residents to mask up indoors. So is Los Angeles.
But it’s crickets from the Baker administration. And in Boston, when it comes to one of the city’s most vulnerable demographics – its schoolchildren – officials are strikingly reluctant to call for masking to deal with the holiday season surge.
“We remain committed to making data-driven decisions and adjusting policies in response to any changes in the status of the pandemic,” says a Boston Public Schools spokesman in a written statement. But when Suleika Soto and her colleagues from the Boston Education Justice Alliance pressed school and city officials to act on the data from a late-November study showing masking significantly reduces student and staff infections, that commitment was suspect, she says: “’The data doesn’t say that we should be implementing masking’ is what BPS told us.”
On one level, we get it. You don’t need a poll to tell you support for masking has collapsed. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu got left holding the bag when she stuck with a vaccine mandate for restaurants and other businesses while adjacent cities were dropping theirs. It’s understandable if she and Baker are tired of dealing with the bitter backlash against mandates when the public’s COVID-mitigation fatigue is so palpable.
Then again, we were led to believe these leaders had the guts to take the heat for making tough public safety calls. Is a masks-down Massachusetts really the “better” place that Baker claims as his legacy? Are Wu and company driven by data as they claim? Or has politics infected the decision-making, even for two pols seemingly vaccinated against any political threat?
“I think people are just tired of COVID and I feel like the political leaders are really playing into that narrative that COVID is over,” concludes Soto.