Fighting Over Easing Masks
Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 10. 2022
Do we need to fight even about easing mask restrictions?
Wait. Isn’t this the golden mean for which all parties have been reaching?
But as Democratic governors in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and other states say they will join with stalwart Republican mask opponents from statehouses in Virginia, Florida and Texas, the sharp edges around just how to ease off from masks is now taking center stage.
The pandemic is not contagion as much as the need to elbow one another about who was right, who was first, whose science reigns supreme, as if this is a public health Winter Olympics competition. It should be universal good news that Covid effects are seen as easing.
The oversimplified difference in the approaches, of course, is that those new blue state declarations follow a significant drop in Omicron-related contagions, an increase in vaccination rates and the hope for warmer weather when Covid seems to recede. For the Republican states in this discussion, it all still remains a matter of ideology — the don’t-tell-me-what-to-do resistance, and the alternative scientific insistence that kids don’t really get very sick from Covid.
And, from its national perch in Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control remind us that it still recommends universal indoor masking including in schools, as well as a minimum three-foot physical distance, regardless of vaccination rates. The CDC will probably change that recommendation after most of the states already act.
Whatever your position, we’re seeing the uncomfortable debate at work about what it means to live for years to come with a constantly mutating, highly contagious disease that can be most serious for those who choose to let nature take its course without medical help.
Moving to Endemic
The talking heads regularly now throw around replacing the label “pandemic” with “endemic” to mean that Covid or some version of it is simply going to be around into the future.
The most consistent message seems to be that the likeliest scenarios are for more localized breakouts, for continuing development of vaccines and monoclonal treatments and for the need to pay attention when contagion rates inevitably head upward again.
Despite the constant refrain that all this is terribly complicated, it seems pretty simple. Protect yourselves, or others, by the by-now normal routines of public health basics when you are indoors and with a bunch of people.
Rather than celebrate our general arrival at a place where we can carefully return to unmasked daily life uninterrupted by lockdowns and intermittent business interruptions, we’re choosing to fight over the gotcha moments.
Fox, Breitbart and other right-leaning sites, the same sites that constantly discount mask rules, are rife this week with reports of hypocrisy because Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams took an unmasked photo op in a Georgia school in front of masked students, for example. Apparently, the argument is that we should not support her because, like every other politician in the world, she wanted to show her full face for a photo that took a minute. Doubtful anyone got sick as a result. But it is the politics that again prove more important than student or teacher health.
The trucker protest in Canada over easing Covid measures seems out of time and step with the easing of exactly those protocols, which is bound to happen in Canada as well. The only explanation is that this is about politics, not pandemic behaviors.
And Dr. Anthony Fauci is a centerpiece villain for Republican candidates, according to news reports.
Ending school masking rules — even a month off, even when tied to dropping caseloads, hospitalizations and deaths in particular states — was a top headline in both Newsmax and The New York Times.
No one disputes that mask rules have proved polarizing, as have vaccines, the push by some for sometimes wacky alternative treatments or mandates of any sort. No one likes to be told what to do, but then a lot of people don’t want to be exposed unnecessarily to serious contagion.
The fulcrum here remains mandates. In the case of schools, that has given license for anti-mask parents to confront school officials in increasingly confrontations ways that now have spilled over into issues over books and what is said in classrooms as well as masking.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was straightforward about acknowledging a time to drop school mask requirements but allowing cities and towns to keep theirs if localized conditions call for it. It’s hard to argue against that, but Florida’s Ron DeSantis does, barring localized requirements. The politics of the day mesh “popularism” with a disdainful frustration among government officials at any level to dictate that people must wear masks.
These people do not take the subway to get around. They don’t spend their days in workplaces without ventilation.
It seems obvious that mask rules are easing or disappearing at least temporarily. But for opponents of mask-wearing, that is not enough. There seems a need to stomp on the policies permanently.
We should enjoy a spring and summer with less contagion. It seems inevitable that this debate will return in the fall, as things cool and some other Greek-labeled mutation starts to make the rounds.
Our discomfort and disagreeable nature are endemic, too.