More than two years after the onset of the COVID panic, mask mandates are going out with a whimper but in some parts of the country masks are here to stay.
A little over a month ago, the East San Francisco Bay Area’s Alameda County Health Care Services issued a new mask mandate. It was our third mask mandate so far. Granted, there was a huge hole in the order, and the hole is called the City of Berkeley.
Berkeley has its own health department which didn’t find it necessary to reimpose indoor masking. The rationale for walking while masked in a restaurant in Oakland but not one a block away in Berkeley is shaky, of course. And if figuring out a scientific basis for it requires an agile imagination, the inconvenience for the non-maskers is very tangible: you mean I have to get out my mask again?
One positive development is that the people in power are beginning to notice the arbitrary nature of health measures imposed by unelected bureaucrats. County Supervisor David Haubert trashed the mandate:
“Our health officer Dr. [Nicholas] Moss has always said he reserves the right to reinstate a mask mandate, but has never clearly defined the conditions for reinstating or removing a mandate. Maybe he doesn't want to tie himself down to something, but he needs to be more transparent.”
Another positive development is that fewer people are covering their faces than they did in the past and the enforcement is spotty.
The Center of Covid Fascism On the Verge of Toppling
This is significant because the region had emerged as a stronghold of COVID conformity. Alameda was among the five California counties to impose shelter-in-place regime in March 2020, importing the Chinese-style pandemic response to the United States ahead of other state or local authorities. We have been dealing with the closures longer than everyone else and our measures have been among the strictest. Historically, these measures have been enforced by the businesses and, despite the fact that local politicians like the San Francisco Mayor London Breed and California Governor Gavin Newsom were caught breaking the rules, ordinary people abided by them.
This time, however, it looks like a sizable number of us peasants have had enough of the never-ending health emergency. I saw unmasked men and women at every place I went and only a handful of times I’ve been asked to cover up. Employees of supermarkets and eateries were more likely to violate the mandate than the customers. I saw baristas with masks under their noses and security guards with no masks at all. And guess what, the customers weren’t running away in horror. In one restaurant where not a single server wore facial covering, customers didn’t feel obliged to put them on to go to the restroom either. The Karens were missing in action.
Family-owned Latino businesses adopted a particularly lax attitude towards the new requirement. Spanish speakers have been more affected by the Wuhan virus than whites and Asians, largely due to the fact that the illegal immigrants among them live in close quarters and hesitate to go to the doctor until it’s too late. Since the onset of pandemic, cities and counties across the Bay Area — not to mention the state and federal agencies — mounted a massive Hispanic outreach effort in an attempt to alleviate the disparity. It’s not that Latinos don’t understand that the disease is sometimes deadly, but that they are culturally predisposed against severe masking.
Unless the county was willing to crack down on the non-compliant businesses, which would entail going after the hardest-hit working class minorities, the mandate was going to be ignored. And it was continued to be ignored in a way that is visible enough for everyone to note that it’s not taking until it was lifted on June 25.
All of a sudden, the limitless authority of those unelected health bureaucrats doesn’t look so unshakable. A quiet minority of locals who didn’t stage any rallies and compelled no media attention had the will to live normal lives, subverting the hegemony. If the mandates no longer work in the Bay Area, there is no hope for other regions.
Voluntary Submission in Berkeley
That’s the good news. The bad news is that even when masks weren’t mandatory, most Bay Area residents voluntarily masked. The City of Berkeley where the mandate does not apply is actually more covered up than their neighbors.
I visit Berkeley weekly. The legendary produce fascists of Berkeley Bowl, who offer the best deals on maroon carrots and water radishes and call plastic bags compost, used to give me their cloth when I entered their store. They no longer do so but I am the only shopper who dares to show my face inside that supermarket. When covering up is a matter of social convention, Berkeley doesn’t need any masking edicts. There is more freedom in the surrounding towns where the requirement is applied.
Even in these areas, clear majorities never dropped masking. The situation is particularly bad in Alameda County public schools to which the recent regulation also didn’t apply because — science! — there was just a few days left in the school year. Nevertheless, close to 100% of the student body remained masked. Why the Bay Area kids and teens are so attracted to covering up is an open question. They might be doing it out of respect for their elders, peer pressure, modesty, habit or all of the above. Either way, we need to take the proposition that the cloaked society is our future seriously. It might be that a Florida-style statewide order is necessary to change what appears by now to be deeply ingrained habits of the youth.
California electoral reality being what it is, we were unable to recall Gavin Newsom after he showed up at a maskless party in an upscale Wine Country restaurant in violation of his own orders. At the same time, it only took a statistically small number of non-compliant individuals to end the compulsory facial covering regime. It’s an important step, but, in the Bay Area, it will take a broad socio-political movement to change what is by now a cultural propensity to hide behind a cloth, to truly go back to normal.
Photo Credit- richmondstandard. com