Virginia's Department of Health is pushing localities to make masks mandatory until students are "fully vaccinated".
Far be it from me to be a COVID denier. Not only do I take the novel disease seriously, but strongly encourage friends and family to wear a mask in closer quarters and public settings where air dispersal isn’t optimal.
With vaccinations on the uptick and herd immunity on the horizon, the lessons of the cold weather season should have taught us that economic lockdowns don’t help and that common sense solutions — wearing a mask, social distancing, and being personally responsible for one’s own choices and actions — were and remain the order of the day.
Yet over the course of the last 18 months, one would be hard pressed to find anyone inside Virginia’s political mainstream suggest that Governor Ralph Northam (D-Blackface) has handled COVID with anything near what one might term leadership.
Case in point?
Continued gamesmanship and politics over whether school children should be wearing masks in public schools:
You can read the entire VDH press statement here.
Just in case you have forgotten what actual adult leadership looks like during a crisis?
Here is Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis explaining — as an adult might to a fellow citizen — why it is important to get vaccinated:
Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) was quick to punish Northam for his continued infantilization of the public:
"To be clear, I urge Virginians to get vaccinated if at all possible, so we can continue to move past this disease, keep our economy open, and return to normal. But there’s nothing to indicate that requiring an eight-year-old to wear a mask while taking a math test will substantially reduce the transmission of COVID, or any new variant that is emerging.
"At the upcoming General Assembly special session, Republicans will once again push our Democratic colleagues to take responsibility and take legislative action against any kind of mask mandate in our schools.”
So why is it that from Republicans we are hearing calls of personal responsibility and self-reliance during a crisis, while among Democrats we are finding a near-religious desperation of returning to a time of strict mandates and total reliance upon our corporate masters in Richmond?
Well… maybe that doesn’t require all that much of an answer.
Infantilizing The Public Doesn’t Work
Everyone remembers in March 2020 that we were told not to wear masks. Not because masks didn’t work, but because there was a shortage of N95s for health care professionals.
Magically in April 2020, we were then told that we had to all wear masks all the time in all instances and everywhere. Countertops had to be wiped down, hands washed, distances maintained and businesses shuttered.
Except that was never the science.
Just months ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci was telling people to “double up” on their masks before the masks mandates — just like that — were lifted by the CDC.
None of this is actual advice.
What these performative tasks are designed to do is manipulate the public into taking a public health crisis seriously.
Not to talk to us as adults, mind you.
Not to reason with fellow citizens.
But to manipulate folks into doing what those in cubicles thought the hoi polloi ought to be doing. Which strikes this observer as not just highly unethical, but the root of much of the misunderstanding and reason why there is no consensus on how best to tackle the pandemic.
Today we now know that those flimsy masks you wear really do help contain COVID by trapping aerosols — but you don’t have to wear them all the time. We also know that they aren’t even close to foolproof. Washing your hands? Pointless for COVID (but seriously, wash your hands). Sanitizing everything? Nonsense. Social distancing? Not an imperative.
In fact, just as there is no sliver bullet, a series of layers of preventative tactics allows us to do things like fly on airplanes again, eat in restaurants, and even sit in movie theaters. Open air events? Perfectly kosher. Baseball games? Game on. Walking in the park or on the sidewalk? No need for face diapers.
Which means a lot of what we were doing during the lockdown wasn’t helping at all — it was merely performative.
What we have at present is a neat hybrid that makes total common sense. But there’s an election around the corner. Never let a good crisis go to waste, as they say.
Let Parents Decide Over Lame Ducks
One has to love the too-clever-by-half measures that Northam is taking here. Mask mandates aren’t being enforced by Northam (of course!) — localities are totally free to make up their own mind based on rigid interpretations of VDH guidelines that leave little room for interpretation but you do you and all that.
What is really happening here? Northam is too much of a lame-duck to enforce a mask mandate himself before the November gubernatorial election, yet seems perfectly happy spreading the pain out locality by locality with VDH guidelines so severe that the intent is unmistakable — Northam wants a mask mandate.
Of course, if masks were the magic bullet? It raises the further question as to why a parent would elect to put their child in such an at-risk environment.
Moreover, if the risks are so hyperbolic? Why bother sending children we claim to love to one of Northam’s public schools at all?
Toss onto that stack some pretty ridiculous mandates to push Critical Race Theory and gender theory in public school classrooms? Perhaps parents need to be asking tougher questions. Perhaps — and I’m just spitballing here — if parents feel uncomfortable with these new efforts to infantilize parents and students alike, maybe they need to let the dollars follow the students and take their children to a school of their choice?
Republicans ought to press Democrats on this question hard. If mask mandates are the grand solution, why aren’t Democrats themselves observing their own rules at their own public functions?
Why is it one set of rules for the Democrats but another set for the rest of us?
But this brings us all full circle.
Virginia Democrats — rather than leveling with the public — seem far more interested in manipulating us for political gain. By creating panic, they create problems they are uniquely fitted to resolve with solutions that more often than not perpetuate the problem in order to create cottage industries that feed off of the misery of others.
That doesn’t sound like leadership in the slightest.
Meanwhile, Republicans nationwide seem far more interested in addressing cures rather than treating symptoms. DeSantis is helping show the way; Gilbert is helping show the way.
Why the Democrats can’t seem to do likewise is something else altogether.
Either way, perhaps the cubicle dwellers in Richmond could consider not treating the public as if we were a bunch of idiots, rubes and rednecks?
Maybe even level with folks rather than cram things down our throats? Practice a bit of that democracy they claim to prize rather than the autocracy they accuse others of so often to the point of boredom?
Democracy might be a form of government to be sure, yet utter hypocrisy just rankles the soul.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.