How did masks become political?
Those pushing to end masking of kids are a cross section of town, with many cross-partisan ideas bubbling amongst them. Opposition to easing the mandate, on the other hand, seem more uniform in worldview.
If you ask a Democrat, they’ll blame Trump for all the COVID woes. If you ask a Republican, you will get varying answers about concepts of mental and physical health, simple liberty, or control. The reality is that the response to COVID brought a clarity to the values that underlie the parties. Masks became a proxy for that broader argument, especially with their direct impact on our children.
Parents at the South Kingstown School Committee’s Tuesday meeting were pretty clear that they were uninterested in that distinction. Masking policy is more harmful to kids than Omicron itself. Period. That was the unambiguous sentiment of all the parents speaking on this issue. While the School Committee voted to make masking optional, they added the caveat that it would only happen if the Governor and the Department of Education allowed it.
The largest study most frequently sited in support of masking used data collected in Bangladesh in May and June of 2020. It shows limited correlation of the effectiveness of masking interventions across all groups, and virtually no affect among younger groups. This was known almost 2 years ago. It does not protect the kids. It might protect the adults around them in very small ways, and provided no downside to learning and development the “they will be fine” argument might have been accepted. But they have not been fine. While many parents of younger students spoke on Tuesday, the affects do not end with adolescence. Parents of college age kids have seen disastrous impacts that may be tied to public interventions around COVID.
By the following morning, Governor McKee revised his edict to lift the statewide mask mandate for all adults this Friday, assuming the son of Omicron doesn’t arrive. But he left it in place for the students until March 4, a full 3 weeks later. And hinted that we could “turn it back on” quickly if needed. When might that be? Next fall when kids return? Next flu season? Why put kids last???
This is why COVID policy became political. Generally speaking, the “right” is suspicious of government overreach. Locally, some of the core principles of the local Party detail this. They believe that local issues should be decided locally. For something as simple as a mask mandate, they don’t believe Washington DC or Providence should have total control of our kids. Deferring to the Governor here, with all the political rings being kissed around the state, is a bridge too far.
On the political “left”, there is a general distrust and misconception of opposing views. They rarely believe the general population will do what is in the best interest of the common good. As such, they created a hierarchy of behaviors and rituals that everyone must follow in order to return to normalcy. The most visible, and one of the longest lasting, was masking our children for longer than almost any other group. As studies emerged, it was evident that masks were barely effective, and that negative mental health effects might be accompanying their COVID rituals. Instead of adjusting, we saw policy makers double down on debunked assumptions, and lean heavily on the authorities “above” them.
The differences in the two views may be summed up this way. The “right” would allow individuals to assess their own priorities when it came to the pandemic. As less threatening variants emerged, and new data surfaced, this view gained in acceptance. The “left” put the safety of the collective ahead of any individual or group. In our schools, this meant a severe sacrifice and real harm to the kids in them. As the new realities came to light, this view was abandoned by some but hardened in many.
Unfortunately, the people that hardened their views the most over the last year have been blue state/town policy makers. A vast majority, though not all, are Democrats. On the issue of hiding our kids’ smiles, they have missed the mark wildly. Keeping them masked for 3 more weeks does not fix that error, and it shows pretty clearly that they put kids last and adults first throughout this pandemic.
Based on how clearly these decisions reflect the core values of the political sides, it might be more poignant to ask a different question.
Is it any surprise that masking became a political issue?
I’m pretty sure such debates become “political” when one chooses to discover and read scientific articles through the lens of Tucker Carlson rather than government agencies designed to do this sort of work and staffed by Republican appointees. Introducing concepts other than efficacy while cherry picking data on efficacy also sounds like it may be a political move.
Trolling blog posters about micro-local issues, who do so anonymously while dropping the Tucker Carlson reference as a pejorative, help make the point. Zealotry over thoughtfulness is another way to frame pandemic policy, but I’m not sure it’ll help much.
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Who knows but maybe its time to consider the fact that scientists have been bending over backwards trying to make vaccines and stay vigilant ,warning us of new mutations that at any time could take out a younger population, not that an older population doesn’t matter, but then you have to wonder. Vaccines and masks are for preventing this virus from turning into something that we don’t want to imagine but that could be a big mistake. Hopefully this thing is weakening and we’ve avoided another Spanish flu, but that would be thanks to science….