A shot and a fear

The virus is still a thing. So is the rightwing rewrite of COVID history.

I can report that last weekend, in my corner of northeast D.C. at least — in Lincoln Park and at Eastern Market and thereabouts — a large majority of the people outdoors were unmasked. This is a big change from before CDC’s May 13 guidance, which suggested fully-vaccinated people can more or less go commando “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance” — in fact, I’d say the balance was the inverse of what it had been.

The main exceptions I observed were food servers and other outdoor merchants, and children, for reasons I think are self-evident. (I also perceived, though the margin was close, that black people were less likely than white people to go maskless. If that’s so I imagine it would be because every time white folks have embraced a freedom it turns out, one way or another, not to work out so well for black folks — see the drug war.)

In stores, shops, and other indoor public spaces, though, masks are still the order of the day. So it would seem the CDC guidance has had an impact: Caution indoors, but caution to the wind outdoors.

But I couldn’t swear that all the unmasked people I saw were vaccinated. D.C. ain’t Bumfuck, quite, and we've graduated from vaccine scarcity to drugstore walk-in shots. But our official coverage is 38% partially/ 24% fully vaxxed — behind the national 47%/ 37% rate.

My own neighborhood’s recorded as 25% done. This number may be off — my wife, for example, got her shots in Maryland when D.C. supply was low, and that wouldn’t show up in the figures. Still, our vaxx rates, like the country’s, are falling.

So it’s fair to assume at least some of the bright, shiny, fully-exposed faces I saw last weekend belonged to the unvaccinated. At the same time, even at the current slower vaccination rate, every shot means less risk, and infections are dropping precipitously — D.C.’s 14-day case rate is a nice fat -37%.

It might work out. I hope so. We’ll see! But I wouldn’t give anyone a hard time for hanging onto their mask a while longer.

Conservatives, on the other hand, will and do. They’re still insisting, as I reported back on April 28 in “Mask Off” and last Friday on alicublog, that anyone who continues to wear a mask is guilty of some kind of offense, ranging from discouraging vaccination to making conservatives feel bad, which would seem in their view to be just as intolerable.

And they haven’t gotten any less weird about it.

“Yesterday afternoon, the CDC saw fit to announce formally what people of sound mind have known for months,” claimed Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review: “that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not gain anything by slinging pieces of dirty cloth across their faces.”

Were you aware you had been “slinging pieces of dirty cloth across your face” all these months? I was tying on clean masks, myself, but to each his own. (The suggestion of uncleanliness in the other is typical of these guys —as is the “known for months” shtick.)

Anyway, because the CDC announcement came later than Cooke liked, he declares that “The Science might be more susceptible to the influence of opinion polling than we have been led to believe.” Remember when people thought COVID conspiracy theorists were all nestled in the gulches and hollers and weren’t welcome in classy conservative circles? Ah, it seems like so long ago.

Then Cooke claims that “certain people within our society will continue to wear masks simply so they are not mistaken for the sort of undesirable and unclean types who disliked wearing masks in the first place.” This literal paranoid delusion comports with a talking point now popular on the right, and fulsomely expressed in Emma Green’s loony “Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown” story in The Atlantic: That liberals are wearing masks, not because it’s good practice in a pandemic, but because they are “neurotic” and don’t want to be mistaken for Republicans — a sort of pandemic version of virtue signaling that’s merely performative and has nothing to do with the airborne proliferation of a deadly disease.

You can also see this in Yascha Mounk’s “Take Off That Mask,” in which the Substack cancelculture crybaby sneers that a restaurant hostess who told him and his asshole friends it was dangerous to keep their masks off in her restaurant was “a young woman who looked like she reads all the right newspapers and magazines.” She also “rolled her eyes.” I guess casual sexism is a comorbidity of the Freeze Peach movement. Anyway next Mounk claims, “we are part of the same tribe, that hostess and I. We both believe that the pandemic is deadly serious” (I wonder if he called her boss for her number) but unlike Mounk she and other libtards have “become too attached to aspects of hygiene theater that ultimately do more to reassure us or to showcase our altruism than to combat the pandemic,” such as telling patrons of a restaurant to observe the house rules. Bitch!

As you would expect, some Never Trump rightwingers are in on it too — “But if the only reason we’re still wearing a mask is because of covid, then we’re letting our fears get the best of us,” says Tom Nichols at the Washington Post, as if COVID weren’t reason enough and who asked you. Nichols also pitched masklessness as a patriotic duty: “Finally, there is our own duty as citizens. If we cast doubt on the CDC when the news is good, then we’re arming the usual skeptics among us to fight health authorities again in the future.” As Max Boot has proven so many times, a wingnut who leaves the GOP is still a wingnut, and Nichols can’t help thumping the drum for masklessness as if it were the Iraq War.

And of course there’s also plenty of straight-up eeeyikes from people who think irony means “how about if I say your mother is what’s ‘toxic,’ what about that huh”:

Brrr. But it’s not merely a nuisance. I’ve been saying this is not just another ad-hoc Blar Har Stupid Libtard shtick, like when they were saying we all hate Dr. Seuss and and want to queer Mr. Potato Head, but the beginning of a rewrite of COVID history in which they’ll claim that the virus was never an issue and Fauci and Bill Gates and Antifa pretended it was to make America socialist. Actually they’ve already started. Check out this bit from Fox News:

The idea here isn’t just that we have to open everything up now, whether people want it or not — it’s that we never should have closed the schools and “sacrificed a year of socialization” because Freedom would have protected those kids from COVID.

That’s the dark lining of our silver cloud: As the threat of the virus subsides — and God grant it does, quickly! — you’re going to hear a lot more of this alternate history in which liberals just showed up with masks one day and Care Bear Stared everybody into going along with the gag. Count on it.