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No Senator, it’s not theater

I grew up in the theater. My mom ran the community theater in my hometown and I was the de facto operations person. Theater is a very specific activity. There’s a script, there’s a production plan, and there are deep psychodynamics brought out through dialogue. Theater gives us important ideas and characters like Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, Tennessee Williams’s Amanda Wingfield, or Lorraine Hansberry’s Walter Younger. Theater is not someone deciding to wear a mask to support public health during a pandemic.

At a U.S. Senate hearing last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, of “theater” in wearing a mask. He was insulting science and theater—two things very important to me. He took a recent paper in Science by Shane Crotty and colleagues on immunity to severe respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and extrapolated the encouraging findings to the incorrect idea that we’re completely out of the pandemic woods. We don’t know two things—whether vaccinated individuals can transmit the virus or whether the vaccines now in use will cover all of the viral variants currently circulating in the United States and around the world. These two unknowns suggest that it’s a good idea for vaccinated individuals to wear a mask in public. Crotty’s paper says absolutely nothing about either of these topics. I guess I should be happy that Senator Paul is reading Science, but it is dangerous that he chooses to extend what is known to “facts” not yet supported by any evidence. I’m sure they covered in medical school the idea that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. I recommend that the Senator read Angela Rasmussen and Saskia Popescu’s recent Perspective in Science to learn about asymptomatic transmission of the virus.

Theater is an art form where human beings physically become someone else. An individual’s words and body assume the aspect of another person. Theater was the last thing Dr. Fauci was doing by wearing a mask at the hearing. In fact, he was very aggressively not acting, because he was showing respect for facts, respect for evidence, and respect for other people, all traits that are very central to who he is.