CLAIM: Vaccine mandates and masks would prevent all of the 750,000 daily new coronavirus cases in the current surge.
VERDICT: PARTLY FALSE. While vaccines and masks would prevent many cases, they do not prevent all transmission.
On Friday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to consider a stay against the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates on large private employers. Under the rule, enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal government would impose a vaccine mandate for the first time, with a “mask-and-test” alternative for unvaccinated workers.
Justice Samuel Alito questioned U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar about whether there would be a grave danger if the Court were to mull over the various arguments for and against the mandates for several days before issuing a decision — especially given that the federal government had waited months to enforce the mandates after issuing them in November.
Prelogar admitted that the Court had the power to use an “administrative stay,” whereupon Justice Breyer intervened:
So if we delay that one day — maybe I’m wrong, and please tell me if I am — but the numbers I read is when they issued this order, there were approximately 70-something-thousand new cases every day. And yesterday, there were close to 750,000. So if we delay it a day, if it were to have effect, then 750,000 more people will have COVID who otherwise, if we didn’t delay it, would not have. I mean, I don’t doubt the power of the Court to issue a stay, I am just saying, what are the consequences of that? And if I am wrong, you better tell me I’m wrong, because that it really did make a difference.
Breyer is probably correct that it would make a “difference,” but not that it would prevent 750,000 new cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that “since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19.” It adds: “Getting vaccinated is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent infection by Delta or other variants.” It notes that wearing masks in indoor public spaces offers “better” protection against the spread of coronavirus, but does not say that masks prevent all possible viral transmission.
Rates of infection were 474.81 per 100,000 population among the unvaccinated as of November 2021, and 99.70 per 100,000 among the vaccinated — nearly five times smaller, though not zero. The omicron variant is thought to be more infectious.
Moreover, the OSHA mandate would only apply in large private workplaces, not in other settings where transmission could occur.