Some people will run headlong into crowded parties, hugging and kissing and shaking hands all the way. Other people will continue to mask outdoors and avoid in-person gatherings, even after being vaccinated.
There’s no single, perfectly-correct way to resume life after COVID. But resume life, we must.
Our collective reemergence is going to require kindness, understanding, and as little judgment as possible. In other words, don’t bully people for feeling differently than you about the new normal.
Not everyone is in a rush to let their guard down. That’s fine, for them.
We’ve had good reason to be scared for a real long time.
To suddenly let go of that constant state of high-alert, preemptive dread can feel to some like they’re letting down their guard and inviting danger.
Those that need more time before they’re comfortable letting go of the culture of COVID safetyism deserve patience and empathy.
But that shouldn’t mean everyone else should have to abide by long-outdated government edicts that fly in the face of scientific data.
Draconian lockdown restrictions have kept people from the lives they want to lead for 15 months. Millions of children have had parts of two school years stripped from their childhoods. Businesses who’ve managed to survive the pandemic want to fully open their doors to customers, at long last.
The knowledge gleaned since early 2020 about the virus’ transmissibility, and the miracle of effective vaccines distributed with astounding expedience, has changed the calculus.
We simply don’t need to be as frightened as we once were.
As people start to feel more comfortable, we can shed the unnecessary outdoor masking, especially for kids and the vaccinated. We can reopen schools with basic COVID precautions.
We can reopen businesses, as long as they’re not putting their workers in danger. And thanks to the mass availability of vaccines, there’s no reason any worker should be at risk of contracting COVID at work.
But while people are moving at their own speeds, we don’t need to turn these personal decisions into some morality play or the latest salvo in the culture war.
Tucker Carlson’s “call the cops on parents who make their kids wear masks” rant is enough motivation for any proud liberal to support forever-masking as a way to “own the cons.”
Even now that vaccines are widely available, only one-third of the country is “fully” vaccinated.
And the experts have gotten it wrong at times over the past year, though nearly always in the direction of over-caution.
Remember last year’s panic-buying run on bleach-wipes and hand sanitizer? Turns out that was mostly unnecessary.
But the revised CDC guidance that said surfaces are not high-risk for COVID transmission didn’t reach the public nearly as effectively. And that’s why so many people believe the hygiene theater must continue.
At the same time, anyone who chooses to wear a mask outside, even if fully vaccinated, shouldn’t be shamed as an anti-science scaredy-cat. Wearing a mask doesn’t infringe on someone else’s civil liberties.
But COVID safety mandates do.
These restrictions were always meant to be temporary, limited in scope, and informed by the latest and most accurate scientific information available.
It’s time to let people live their lives at their own speed again, and not at the pace of irrational fear.
Take it slow if you want, but don’t slow the rest of us down
In a widely-read piece for The Atlantic, Emma Green wrote, “For many progressives, extreme vigilance was in part about opposing Donald Trump.”
This vigilance extended to keeping schools and other public gathering spaces closed, for emotional, rather than scientific reasons.
Green cites several examples of people in very left-leaning, well-educated, and affluent areas prioritizing politics and activism over science.
Brookline, Massachusetts, for example, announced it will continue to mandate outdoor masking, despite Gov. Charlie Baker’s removal of the restriction statewide.
In nearby Somerville, a community member accused parents who wanted to reopen schools of being motivated by “white supremacy.”
And though it’s already mid-May, there remains no guarantee that schools in such deep-blue districts will even be fully-opened next September.
This is a losing strategy.
If you want to convince the vaccine holdouts who are keeping American society from reaching herd immunity, you need to sell them on vaccination compliance being the exit ramp for mask mandates and indefinite social-distancing.
If you want the people who are just done with life-in-lockdown to respect your trepidation about quickly returning to the world of people doing things, you shouldn’t shame them as inherently racist monsters or troglodyte grandma-killers.
No one should be forced to feel unsafe. And no one should be forced to have their lives extraordinarily altered to give others little more than the “feeling” of safety.
The slow-returners need to cede some ground to the people who don’t want to be fined for wearing a mask outdoors, who want to hang out in crowds among other consenting adults unencumbered by government-enforced restrictions, and who want their kids to school.
We’ve all been in this together. It’s been brutal.
Now it’s time to create the space for people to choose their own paths.
Anthony L. Fisher is a Politics Columnist for Insider (where this first appeared). He was previously the site’s Politics Editor. Before joining BI in 2018 he was a Senior Editor at The Week, a Producer at BuzzFeed News and Fox Business Network, and an Associate Editor, writer, and video reporter at Reason. His writing has also appeared in outlets such as The Daily Beast, Vox, New York Observer, Barron’s, New York Daily News, Filmmaker magazine, and Thrillist. He’s a frequent commentator on national TV, radio, and podcasts. From 2017-2020 he was the Producer/Ombudsman of “The Fifth Column” podcast.