It ended almost as abruptly as it began. Last week, the CDC finally issued guidance that people can take off their masks. Yeah — I know it’s more complicated than that, and yep, I also know that many of you are thrashing around inside your fears on the whole thing.
And yep — I love to hear all of the screams about how the guy that writes about empathy, by your definition, doesn’t have any. But like any fantasy — and “masks working” was the biggest fantasy of the whole pandemic — it has to end. It’s fun to believe in Santa Claus for about a month. But we all start to look sideways at the house that keeps up the Christmas decorations, lit, year-round.
Figuring that out isn’t particularly hard if you understand how to follow a time trace of the pandemic. Pick deaths, or cases, or hospitalizations, and there’s basically vanishingly small evidence that any nonpharmaceutical intervention (or NPI) made any difference at all. Just FYI — I wanted them to at the beginning of all of this, and actually campaigned for some of the various NPIs myself.
But the data came in, and, well, as a scientist, I had to change my mind. It will be the big story that will be written about the pandemic — data came in, and lots of powerful people couldn’t backtrack from their original positions.
The problem with all this is that lots of folks are still suffering through working jobs all day with their masks on. These are people who typically don’t write to the paper, so you don’t hear their voices. Students, van drivers, supermarket checkers — for all sorts of reasons, they’re not involved in any debate.
As well as our children and adolescents, who various actors (not me) castigated as super-spreaders and irresponsible partiers and grandma-killers. From my own observations, immersed in these populations, the kids did what we told them to do — regardless of NPI efficacy. They all need to be released from pandemic madness and have a decent summer, regardless of their vaccination status. Enough is enough. Let them on the fields of summer without masks.
Idaho has done this. I was fully expecting Moscow to hang on to its mask mandate longer. But they didn’t. And yes, I am aware that Pullman, being in Washington state, is supposed to defer to state authorities. But the silence from any leadership is deafening. We have most of the country now open, and doing fine for months. Yet here we are, dragging our feet, or more aptly, engaging in our own hair shirt routine for what has turned into our typical mode of politics — performative signaling.
One of the fascinating things about living here in Moscow/Pullman is we have side-by-side experiments in policy running at any given time. The two communities, only separated by seven miles, are really population-wise, integrated. Moscow has chosen to get back to normal, and that’s great. But reading about the cancellation of the Lentil Festival, mostly because of lack of certainty, is going to shine a light on how the effects of pandemic intransigence turn into positive or negative outcomes. None of this will be good.
I still believe we have an opportunity to salvage the summer on both sides of our border. But it will take more than me speaking out about it. And I also want to exhort our own leadership on this side to go back to normal at WSU in the fall.
I’ll close on a note to the liberal side of this community. There are more people angry about all this than you realize. And you are creating a whole tier of single-issue voters on the thing that is enshrined in our Constitution. Two weeks of lockdown and masking is one thing — a year that destroys lives is another. I shudder to think what will happen in the midterm elections. And even Santa has to go back to the North Pole.
Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical andmaterials engineering at Washington State University.