Last year, when I learned that my kids’ school district in Northern California had zero intention of sending middle-school students back to the classroom I started allying with all sorts of people. Some were like me: parents who understood that learning at home, on a computer, was far from ideal, but only wanted our kids back at school when it was safe. Others held disparate ideas. Ideas like: masks are bad and vaccines are worse. Yet, for a short time, I worked up on the same side of the aisle as the staunch COVID-friendly crowd, which thrives in the underbelly of social media.
When I first requested to join my state’s largest reopening group on Facebook, I could easily identify the crazies by their posts. They complained about masks or plexiglass barriers, school choice, Gavin Newsom and Joe Biden, even sex education and Critical Race Theory. But most members focused on the prize: reopening California’s public schools, which ranked at the bottom for in-person attendance according to Burbio’s School Tracker data. Posts in the group generally were oriented toward action or information, sharing information, and a few about suing their school districts. Overall, reopening public schools in California was a rare spot of bipartisanship, linking Democrats, Republicans and independents toward one common goal.
Then the environment swiftly changed. The California legislature passed a law mandating full-time, in-person return to school, and with the sweep of Gov. Newsom’s pen (the same governor the crazies compared unfavorably to Hitler), all comity broke down. The reopen group turned fully anti. Vaccine, masks, Newsom, Democrats. You name it, they hated it. Along with this came an onslaught of posts to defund public schools, take over local school boards, and spread QAnon garbage. Still, as the Facebook group was the only place I got an unadulterated picture of what the other side thinks, scary as it is, I occasionally visited the site; as they say, hold your friends close and your enemies closer.
In all this time of cyber shadowing, however, I never figured out what parents — as in, people with kids — had to gain from their rabid opposition to all COVID-19 common sense, particularly when the Delta variant hit and the numbers of kids with COVID-19 reached unimaginable highs.
While we saw headlines like these:
people in the group continued asserting that wearing a mask makes you sick.
As Americans around the country read that:
the group claimed that kids weren’t getting COVID-19, or if they were, it was so mild as to be undetectable.
Even when public health experts stated:
they claimed that the yearly flu was more dangerous than COVID-19.
What do these parents have against masking? I asked myself. Is wearing a mask really such a big deal when compared to the potential for returning to distance learning, getting sick and even dying from COVID-19, and spreading it to your family, friends and neighbors?
The problem, it turned out, was that I was attempting to apply logic and common empathy. Because I eventually found my answer:
By every measure, children of color fare worse than their white counterparts when it comes to COVID-19. Higher incidence of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), more serious illness and hospitalization, and death.
By now we’ve seen enough anti-mask and school board protests to get a sense of the demographics behind these “movements.” They are dominated by white people. What we see with our own eyes is backed up by facts. USC researchers, earlier this year, found that white people “were the least likely of any race to wear a mask consistently, with just 46 percent reporting that they wear one while in close contact with people they do not live with …compared with 67 percent of Black people, 63 percent of Latinos and 65 percent of people from other races.”
And while anti-maskers continue to accuse parents who support masking of operating out of fear or ignorance or their socialist agenda, the truth is, they don’t care about masks or vaccines because it’s only other people’s kids, or so they believe, who will suffer from COVID-19.
But why am I trying to make sense of these people? Because, like it or not, people like this are impacting every single American’s everyday life. A year and a half into COVID-19, the divide between the anti-mask, anti-vax, antiscience crowd and the rest of the population couldn’t be starker — or more lethal.
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