I am the furthest thing from a COVID denier, but continued mask wearing in Madison is just another form of liberal virtue signaling.
I split my time between our place in the North Woods and our condo on the Near West Side. For virtually all of the pandemic I was frustrated with my Upper Peninsula neighbors. Too many of them were either in denial or openly hostile — for bizarre and incoherent political reasons — to simple public health measures.
I hate confrontation, but at the depths of the pandemic I had had enough. One day I was checking out at my favorite hardware store up there and the clerk was, as was his routine, not wearing a mask — never mind a sign on the door saying that masks were required. I pointed this out to him and he pointed to the mask around his neck. “Seriously, man?” I said. “That’s not doing either of us any good.”
He slipped the mask over his nose and mouth and, no doubt, muttered something unpleasant underneath.
But several months later here we are, happily, in Dane County with a 70% vaccination rate. All the local precautions have been lifted and the CDC says that it is perfectly safe not to wear a mask as long as you’ve been vaccinated. And yet most Madison businesses I go to still require them, often in absolutely senseless ways. So, for example, a lot of restaurants require them as you’re walking to and from your table. Meanwhile, you’re surrounded by people eating and chatting away, maskless. It makes no sense.
To be fair, I don’t blame the businesses. The CDC did a crummy job of preparing people for the new guidance and, for most of the pandemic, there’s been too little in the way of national or state requirements for dealing with this at all. (It’s fair to blame Trump and the state Republicans for this.) When what rules there were went away, businesses were left in the lurch, so many just acceded to local custom. In the north that meant the masks came off and the plexiglass came down right away. But here, both remain. It has little to do with science and everything to do with culture.
Of course, there’s no harm in wearing a mask. It’s just unnecessary and annoying. And, I can’t help but feel that most Madison businesses are doing it because their customers demand it. As I’ve written before, Madison is a community of people who, when they were kids, always had their hand up in class and always with the right answer, kids who were three days ahead on their homework, kids who excelled at being crossing guards.
Wearing a mask now has gone from an important public health strategy and a way of just being considerate of others, to just another form of liberal virtue signaling. While I’m here in Rome I’ll do as the Romans do. But it’s really time to dump the masks, people.
I’m looking forward to heading north tomorrow.
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