A friend who has been traveling around Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee came into town this weekend for a visit. His first observation was, “Carrboro is the only place I’ve seen where people are wearing masks just walking down the street.” It’s true. The whole town wears masks all of the time. When I’m walking in the woods, about half the people are wearing masks. 

On the bright side, the people here were early adapters. The same friend told me last spring that people weren’t wearing masks in grocery stores long after they became universal attire in Carrboro. We have had very little community spread and Orange County has either the lowest or second lowest incidence of COVID in the state. Masks are certainly part of that. 

On the other hand, there’s no science behind wearing masks outside. COVID is spread predominantly indoors with a significant amount of time and exposure. Even large outdoor events don’t cause outbreaks. That’s why the protests last spring and summer, both against COVID restrictions and in response to George Floyd’s killing, did not become super spreader events. It’s also why closing parks and beaches last year was a mistake. 

A lot of liberals who self-righteously claim they believe the science ignored it throughout the pandemic. They associated caution with science when it’s not. Science would have kept the schools open because the threat to the well-being of children was greater than the threat of community spread of COVID through schools. Science would have people maskless outside but wearing them inside. If you are wearing a mask on your daily walk on a relatively sparsely populated street or in a park or in the woods, you are not believing the science; you are believing the hype. 

Conservatives had an opportunity to make themselves the voice of reason. Instead, they made themselves the pro-COVID party. They could have been promoting responsible behavior and offering ways to mitigate the impact and spread of the disease. Instead, they stayed silent while their Donald Trump and their right-flank spewed conspiracy theories. They focused more on the horrors of mask mandates than the horrors of COVID. They demanded opening bars, which should have stayed closed, instead of offering plans to open schools responsibly. In other words, they blew it. 

I’m still seething over the politicization of the pandemic and I’m as angry at the self-righteous people staring condescendingly as I walk my dog without a mask as I am at those who promoted bullshit theories of a hoax to undermine Donald Trump. I see the damage done to my children and their friends and I’m still not hearing the adults on either side of the argument trying to make it right for them. COVID was an opportunity for both right and left to set aside their differences and figure out how keep our society as normal as possible in a very abnormal period and we failed. 

Both sides botched the response to the disease. Now, they need to figure out how to mitigate the damage they’ve done to the people who are our future. For once, do what’s right regardless of the costs. Give them a chance to do the year over again. Find the counselors and emotional support necessary to help kids recover from a year in isolation. Provide tutors to get them caught up in their work. Just get the recovery right for them and not just the shoppers and drinkers.

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