I am aggrieved by America's response to the pandemic in recent weeks and the overt politicization of an issue that is decidedly non-political.
First, I should address the lack of mask-wearing that is so pervasive, especially in my home state of Mississippi. It is infuriating to me that one of the least intrusive measures a person can take to stop the virus from spreading has become politicized.
In Mississippi, a blood red state that reliably votes Republican every election, mask-wearing appears to be viewed as a tactic reserved for milquetoast liberals afraid of a pesky virus. President Trump has eschewed face coverings, openly mocked people who wear them and held rallies without requiring them. Now male conservatives, particularly in the pro-Trump camp, see it as emasculating or as an affront to their freedom to wear or not wear whatever they want. I believe some people think masks are equivalent to clothing one's self in an "I'm Proud to Be a Democrat" t-shirt. One of the worst and least tenable complaints - though I hear it often - is that a mask somehow deprives one of oxygen, yet there is no evidence to support this is even possible.
Public health professionals fouled up in the beginning by showing a lack of consensus on the positive effects of mask-wearing, and reversing that position likely eroded trust. I understand that medicine is a branch of science, and communities studying it can change positions as new evidence presents itself. But at a time when institutionalized skepticism against scientific disciplines already exists, such a turnaround will cost credibility.
Now, health professionals are desperately urging citizens to wear a mask, insisting it attenuates the spread of infection, yet many conservatives refuse to cover their cake-hole with a piece of cloth.
One likely reason that health experts are held in ill repute right now is the decision to wade into a political dispute and show their support for the Black Lives Matter protests that happened following the news of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Epidemiologists signed a petition stating that systemic racism is also a public health crisis in America and that people should not use the virus as an excuse to reproach the protesters for marching.
Despite many health experts decrying previous protests demanding states reopen the economy, many flip-flopped to express approval for the anti-racism protests, attracting accusations of hypocrisy that were not unfounded. Health professionals aired concerns over the mass gatherings of people and sounded alarms about the potential threat in waking the economy from its coma. Additionally, the spate of anti-lockdown protests generated waves of strident criticism from left-wingers and much of the media who cracked wise at how ignorant and unaware the protesters were of the health risks involved in reopening the economy.
I support the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, but I can understand why conservatives might view health experts and the media with jaundice after the sanctimonious attacks on their protests and defense of the so-called liberal protests. Even Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves attributed the recent spike in cases to the anti-racism protests and blamed the "liberal media" for not drawing the link.
Even though I did not necessarily condone the anti-lockdown protests - I find the gun-carrying, Confederate flag-waving method of nonviolent action difficult to sympathize with - I partly understood the motivation, considering the recent economic downswing. Although, I did find the disregard for human life in some of the clarion calls to reopen to be contemptible, and President Trump's rhetoric about the 'cure being worse than the problem' and his administration's myopic focus on the economy to the exclusion of all else does not help.
In retrospect, I agree that the wholesale approach that the U.S. took in thwarting the spread of the virus, instead of finding a solution on a case-by-case basis, was a problem. Southern and Midwestern states had not (yet) been slammed by the impact of the virus in the same way New York and other blue states had, and cases and deaths had been comparatively low. But the emergence of the virus prompted governors to be proactively shut down the economy leaving many Americans without work.
By May, people with good reason grew tired of staying shut in, and many of them pounded the pavement in protest. Facing pressure from their constituents, governors started to reopen, and the economy came sputtering back to life. But the remigration of people out into the general public soon proved to be perilous, as people started acting dangerously out of indifference or fulmination amid a still ongoing virus.
Mirrored with reality in the pre-COVID days, the bustle in certain states now appears the same as it did before, barring a few people wearing masks. Rules encouraging travel only when essential were thrown out of the proverbial window, and people are finding any and every excuse to leave their homes as if tempting fate. Restrictions on gathering were consigned to the rubbish bin, as there have been more house parties, summer camps and neighborhood barbecues than there have ever been. Young people and many stubborn adults are sporting devil-may-care attitudes that astonishingly bad, and I fear the worst possible scenario is yet to come. It is harrowing, and it makes me grit my teeth to think about how the polarization is preventing America from containing the virus.