Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time with kids, mostly the high school and heading-off-to-college variety, and sometimes the contentious subject of wearing masks comes up.
To a person they have shrugged. It’s no big deal, they say. You wear them inside, you take them off outside, done.
“I’m fine with them, Dad, I’m used to it,” my son dismissed me when I said I was sorry he had to wear masks at college, even though everyone there also has to be vaccinated. I got the sense he’d happily strap himself into an iron lung at this point if that’s what it took to finally get out of the house.
Some of you parents, on the other hand, are completely losing your minds over the issue.
Recently up in Marysville, north of Everett, the School Board had to call in the cops because parents, upset about masks, were banging on the board room windows, shouting obscenities, throwing things and generally making asses of themselves. One parent grabbed a flagpole adorned with Old Glory and charged at the assembled School Board like a mad toddler with a big stick.
Later, out in the parking lot, parents surrounded the car of an administrator and blocked it from leaving.
“At this meeting, district leaders, staff and board members were subjected to a variety of threats and abuses,” the district wrote in a letter to families. “As a result, all future board meetings will be held via Zoom until further notice.”
Yeah, it’s not just the virus making some meetings go remote. School boards are reverting to virtual meetings all over the place solely because of the parents.
In recent weeks, school board meetings have been shut down in Wenatchee (because parents refused to wear masks), Oak Harbor (parents shouted “liars!” and disrupted the meeting), Spokane (150 parents took off their masks and refused to put them back on), and Bend, Oregon (parents yelled at board members and heckled a Spanish language translator). Earlier, near Vancouver, Washington, parents shouted down the board and then vandalized some cars of school staff.
All of this is over masks, supposedly. Some parents are so hacked off about kids wearing masks that they’re threatening to unenroll them from school (parents pulled some kids out of a high school near Spokane, and there was an “unenrollment day” protest held down in Oregon).
What a surreal cultural moment. And what an odd thing — masks — to get so belligerent about. Sure, nobody likes to be told what to do. But it’s a piece of fabric temporarily attached to your face to try to help tamp down a surging infectious disease. Staff in hospitals routinely wear them for exactly this purpose. As for contributing to fighting the pandemic, it’s about the least anyone can do.
Personally I get that some people may be put off by mandatory vaccination, because that’s a medicine that goes inside your body. But wearing a mask isn’t all that different from wearing pants — which schools also require us to do.
We have rules that require us to wear seat belts, and bike helmets, and shoes inside stores. Nobody goes around brandishing flagpoles over these things. So what’s the big deal with the mask?
As a practical matter, no adult enterprise, such as a business, would even think of gathering 30 unvaccinated people into a room without masks at this point in the pandemic. But that’s what a lot of schools are about to do, because kids under 12 aren’t eligible for shots yet. So having them masked up is, again, the bare minimum that could be done to try to keep an in-person school year going.
“The country’s single largest group of unvaccinated individuals has begun regularly gathering in small spaces, sometimes prohibited by law from protecting themselves,” was how the advocacy group First Focus on Children described the start of the school year.
They were referring to states such as Florida that have perversely barred masks. Here, masks have been mandated indoors in schools by Gov. Jay Inslee. That’s the other pointless thing about these school board protests — you could patriotically flog every school board member with that American flagpole and they still wouldn’t be able to do what you want about masks, because it’s a state rule, not a local one.
Obviously something primal is going on here. It’s probably not the thing itself, the mask, but what it represents. The pandemic has by now been so politically polarized that the humble face cloth has, I guess, become the ultimate “us” versus “them” tribal marker.
That’s what I gathered anyway from listening to area freedom fighter Clint Didier, who on Monday shut down the meeting of the Franklin County Commission in the Tri-Cities when he refused to wear a mask. He grandstanded about how his unalienable rights were granted not by man but by God, and then asked “all men” to join him on the ramparts, because liberty itself was on the docket. He didn’t seem that exercised about the mask itself; he mostly seemed jazzed to have something to protest.
Back to the kids: This past week researchers released a survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association in which they actually asked young people, ages 14-24, what they think of all this.
The vast majority of the 1,068 youth interviewed said they not only planned to get vaccinated (“because then I can protect my family and community,” one said), but were fine with communitywide mask wearing.
“Most youth also reported that they will continue mitigating behaviors, such as wearing a mask, even after vaccination,” the study concluded.
As usual, the kids are all right. It’s the adults who have gone pandemic bonkers.
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