Masks, vaccines, and variants: covid-19 debates still prominent in US society
*Names in the interviews have been changed to protect their privacy.*
It's been two years since the covid-19 pandemic overtook the world, and in America the debate over wearing masks still reigns strong. With the rise of new variants, from delta to omicron to others which may yet manifest, masks and vaccines are still a contentious point of conversation.
I myself am both vaccinated and compliant with the mask edicts—which have been eased or removed in many counties and states in the US. During the height of lockdowns and mask mandates, America was torn in two, an occurrence not entirely uncommon with such hot topics.
Now that vaccines have been introduced and made available to all ages, another spark in disagreements has spread as fast as the variants. Masks and vaccines go hand-in-hand, so it's likely those who are for masks are for vaccines and vice versa. However, this is not always the case. I myself have people close to me in my life who are hesitant about the vaccine but abide by mask mandates, which baffled me.
My family has always been health-conscious, especially regarding vaccines so it's hard for me to grasp being wary of them. Christmas of 2020, I didn't get to spend with my family at home; they were concerned about catching the virus. However, they came up to visit me in Duluth and we had some soup outside after hiking around in the snow, and around 3pm they drove back to the cities. It was a unique celebration, but one I won't soon forget. Many people across the country and the globe likely had similar unique experiences, while others forwent their concerns and had traditional celebrations for some sense of normalcy.
In the fall of 2020, I interviewed several individuals from both sides of the argument, and was met with some interesting thoughts. One thing is clear and common on both sides: we are angry, and we are tired.
Kellen Brisc, a man from Canada expressed to me his frustrations about covid-19, "I was in Missouri and our country leader said Canadians had to come home. Ever since, I've watched freedoms and rights slowly being eroded from this so-called pandemic." Even before the vaccines were introduced, he mentioned, "I'm not getting a vaccine. I've never gotten a flu shot."
Being pulled away from travel when the pandemic first hit was frustrating for everyone, from Brisc to myself. I couldn't study abroad in Spain. I had friends who were abroad that spring who were pulled back to the US.
Frustrations have been high as the world changed. Everyone was impacted mentally, physically, and socially. Addy Learner shared, "I'm more anxious than I usually am. Going into public places where there's a lot of people is worse."
Though she shared this sentiment a year and a half ago, I feel this on a personal level. I'm much more aware of crowded places and meeting new people when I used to be so blithe about it.
Masks have made me and many others feel more comfortable. As Chelsea Limberg said, "You wear a mask not only to protect yourself but others...It's simple." Dr. Fauci and scientific evidence have backed this concept and stated over and over again that masks are the best way to protect people in the pandemic. Now that vaccines are available, that's even better, with the goal of herd immunity in mind, to put an end to the pandemic rather than just slowing it down.
When asked about thoughts on anti-maskers, Learner said, "Frankly, I get pissed. They're not considerate of other people. It's so selfish."
Kaley MacIntosh, a former vet, brought up an interesting point of disabilities such as PTSD, "I freak out if something touches my face." Wearing masks is an anxiety trigger for her. Though she hates masks, and doesn't make her daughter wear one, she said, "Give people the information they need but...give people the chance to make decisions for themselves."
Listening to her interview, as well as her mother who had some thoughts to share, was enlightening. I had always viewed anti-maskers as selfish and overall bad people. But nothing is that black and white. Covid-19 has been politicized and everyone seems ready to die on their respective hills democrat or republican, pro- or anti-mask. The truth is, it doesn't matter. Covid-19 doesn't care who you are or what you believe. Viruses will do what viruses do best: spread.
Even with this knowledge of how dangerous the virus can be, Brisc states "I'd rather die on my feet in freedom than on my knees in fear." A powerful sentiment that he is not alone in sharing.
Rachelle Dene, a fellow graduate of my high school class, counters with an equally powerful statement: "What about the freedom of others?"
Prioritizing yourself is fine, everyone else walking around is an individual whose health and life and freedom is at risk from those who will not wear masks.
In sum, pro-maskers argue for protection. Anti-maskers argue for freedom. And the vaccine is another discussion with hesitancy regarding what's in it. With covid-19 still prominent and keeping us on our toes as we anxiously try to gain some sense of normalcy, this debate is still relevant. We can argue who is right and who is wrong until we're all blue in the face, but the fact is covid-19 is still finding ways to survive and as the restrictions ease, the cases rise. Are we heading for a another lockdown or finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?
Only time will tell. But one thing is certain. It depends on us.