Wednesday, October 13, 2021


I like ProPublica's Alec MacGillis, and I appreciate some of what he's saying about mask-wearing in this New York Times op-ed.
BERLIN — You see it everywhere here in Germany, day in and day out: People taking the subway or bus or train put masks on as they prepare to board. And when they arrive at their stop or station and disembark, nearly all of them take the mask off, almost in unison.

For someone who arrived here after spending the first year and a quarter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, it is a remarkable sight: a communal, matter-of-fact approach to mitigation, turning what has become such an intensely charged symbol for Americans into a mere practicality. This approach to masks and public transit is on display not only in cosmopolitan Berlin, but everywhere I’ve been [in Germany] in my reporting travels these past two months.... Mask on when you’re inside the train or store; mask off when you’re out of it.
That's what I do, although I wait until I leave a subway station before removing my mask. If Germans do this, good for them.

But then MacGillis begins blaming the fraught politics of masking in America on ... both sides (which I'm sure is what made the piece appealing to the editors of the Times opinion section):
Throughout 2020 and the first part of 2021, I traveled across the United States reporting stories, and wondered why it was so hard for the country to arrive at a sensible middle ground on Covid-19 measures.

Even after public health experts had established the vastly lower risk of transmission outdoors, I watched local officials close playgrounds and swimming pools, leaving young people with fewer options for low-risk activity and social contact. That was (mostly) the blue states. In one red town I attended a crowded memorial service in a windowless church where precious few people were wearing masks, and many shared embraces as though the virus simply didn’t exist. All or nothing, nothing or all.
We can argue about the risk of COVID to children -- it's not zero, although many Americans have argued since the start of the pandemic that it's effectively zero -- but I think the closure of outdoor recreation facilities for kids was about fear of very close physical contact, not about an incorrect belief that the outdoors is as COVID-risky as the indoors. Maybe local governments went too far. But the difference between overcaution and red-state hostility to precautions is that overcaution doesn't spread a deadly virus and undercaution frequently does.
And I saw how these wildly conflicting responses were fueling a vicious cycle of ever wider divides in behavior, with corrosive political side effects. For someone who had been documenting the country’s growing political fissures for more than a decade, it was not hard to discern what was happening: Reports of Trump supporters refusing to wear masks in big-box stores or indoor campaign events seemed to make liberals more inclined to wear masks even when outdoors with few people around; seeing mask wearing turned into a political statement, more partisan talisman than necessary tool, in turn made many conservatives less likely to mask up indoors when the circumstances justified it.
There's a pervasive myth that a high degree of COVID caution among some liberals is an effort to spit in the eye of conservatives, or virtue-signal to other liberals. For the people who believe this, it's a story that's too good to check; as far as I know, no one has ever asked people who wear masks in uncrowded outdoor settings why they do it. Particularly since the rise of the Delta variant, I assume it's because of unconfirmed reports that Delta can transmit within five to ten seconds and might be more contagious outdoors than other forms of the virus.

But again, people who wear masks outdoors aren't hurting anyone. People who won't wear masks in Walmart might hurt someone.

And not just by spreading COVID. MacGillis notes that Germany, despite the apparent calm with which it has responded to pandemic restrictions, has had one murder in response to public health measures. America, of course, has had many more.
... the police in southwestern Germany arrested a 49-year-old man accused of fatally shooting a 20-year-old gas-station clerk who had told him to wear a mask in the shop. It was reportedly the country’s first instance of deadly violence apparently fueled by disputes over pandemic restrictions, a category of killing of which the United States has more than a half dozen examples.
MacGillis says that this violence was "apparently fueled by disputes over pandemic restrictions," a phrase that glosses over the fact that the violent "disputers" are all on one side. They're all mask opponents, as the list at MacGillis's link makes clear.
[A] Georgia gunman ... fatally shot a cashier at the Big Bear supermarket outside of Atlanta after arguing with her about his face covering, according to a statement from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations....

In one of the earliest incidents, four people were charged for fatally shooting a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan, in May 2020 after police say the 43-year-old denied entry to a woman whose daughter was not wearing a mask.

Denying service over missing face-coverings has also been linked to the killings of a Louisiana police officer, who wouldn’t allow a maskless man into a high school basketball game, and an MTA mobility driver in Baltimore, who was shot and killed after turning away a would-be bus passenger.

An 80-year-old man in Buffalo, New York, died in October of last year after he was pushed to the ground by a fellow customer at a bar who he confronted about not wearing a mask.
One mask opponent was killed, but he was a violent aggressor.
A Michigan sheriff’s deputy fatally shot a man suspected of stabbing another man after a mask dispute in a Quality Dairy store in July of last year (the man who was stabbed later died from the injuries).
And where's the pro-mask equivalent of this?

Or this?

You can argue that both sides have misjudged the appropriate response to the virus, but you can't argue that both sides are equally menacing. Much of the right didn't want to wear masks, didn't want to take precautions, didn't want to treat the pandemic as anything worse than a flu, and now doesn't want to get vaccinated. The right treats the public health response itself as an aggression -- even the parts Alec MacGillis approves of -- even though the absence of public health measures -- the "freedom" the right wants -- leads to disasters like what happened in the South this summer. Sorry, Alec, but the blame doesn't fall equally on both sides.

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