Scrolling through my Twitter timeline yesterday, after a Florida judge struck down the mask mandate for public transportation, reminded me of the time former President George Bush spoke in front of the “mission accomplished” sign in 2003. Airline pilots made announcements, passengers cheered and promptly took off their masks, as if wearing them had been some overly oppressive measure. All this as the country is dealing with a more transmissible COVID variant, and nearing a million COVID deaths with no money for testing and treatment for the uninsured.
The judge who issued the ruling was Trump appointee U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle who, by the way, the American Bar Association deemed unqualified for her role due to her lack of experience. This one person made a broad decision on public health and stated in her decision, “Wearing a mask means nothing.” However, I bet it means something to the immunocompromised person trying to do everything in their power not to get sick, or the child who is under five who can’t get vaccinated yet.
Somewhere along the way, we decided that looking out for each other was too much of a burden. During the height of the pandemic, many people took to their balconies and clapped for hospital workers as they exited their shifts, honoring their courage in the face of a devastating virus. Now it appears the nation would rather take the advice of podcast hosts over doctors, all in the name of individualism.
The message seems to be, “you’re on your own, now.” There will be no stimulus or hazard pay to insulate those who will feel the brunt of another wave – primarily people of color who can’t afford to take off work to get the care they need.
So, we’ll repeat the same mistakes in the third year of the pandemic – costing us more money and disabling many more people that didn’t have to be. To move into a world where COVID can be manageable, we have to acknowledge that we haven’t done everything to make this one better for everyone – that’s on a personal and government institution level.
Having to wear a mask is not a blight on our American rights, but COVID infection could be. For now, at least, I guess we’ll see each other’s smiling faces packed tightly on hourlong flights because, what could possibly go wrong?