Thanks, I’ll keep my mask on

In his lifetime, one college student has seen plenty to create distrust in society and institutions — from the Iraq war to active shooter drills to economic crises to the CDC’s own handling of the pandemic. Why would anyone not be skeptical about being assured that now it’s safe for vaccinated people to go without masks?

PUTNEY — On May 13, Gleyber Torres, an infielder for the New York Yankees was confirmed in a press release from his team to have contracted COVID-19.

The very next day, while outside of a Domino's Pizza that was still takeout only, I was accosted by a man who was angry about the continued use of masks.

If he had been voicing his opinion in an online forum or a letter to the editor, I would have sympathized. But I know there are others like him out there: people who aren't conspiracy theorists but who are simply tired of wearing masks.

Some keep their feelings to themselves. Some, like that gentleman, harangue passersby. Some speculate about the mental health of people who still wear masks.

All of us - from the people who comprise the stereotypical, Trump-loving breed of anti-masker to even the people who wear masks (such as me) - have in common a desire for masking to end. Very few people wear masks because they find doing so pleasurable.

The biggest point my assailant had to make against masks were the recent changes to the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that the vaccines are safe and effective.

Yes, the vaccines are safe. Yes, they are effective. Between 72 percent to 95 percent, depending on the vaccine.

That is not perfect.

We also need to understand that, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president, we need between 75 and 85 percent of the population to have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

As of May 16, according to Google's handy widget, 37.1 percent of the United State's population has been fully vaccinated.

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The CDC has made other mistakes in this pandemic. While a lot of blame rightly falls on the former president for turning masks into a political issue, at the start of the pandemic the CDC actively avoided promoting masking to preserve supplies for medical staff.

In normal times, this measure would have been disastrous, creating confusion and distrust unnecessarily. In our current climate, it was exploited by multiple malignant actors to create a culture war.

Another key failing was the agency's delay in announcing that Covid is an airborne disease. On July 6, 2020, the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and more than 230 scientists published a report that Covid was airborne. Over several days, the World Health Organization grudgingly admitted that the report could be right after months of downplaying the possibility, according to an article in Nature.

The CDC would not issue a briefing about the possibility of Covid being airborne until Oct. 7, 2020.

A large contingent also actively refuses to vaccinate. These people are not above simply lying about being vaccinated in order to return to normal, thus endangering those who have a legitimate reason for not wearing a mask.

Finally, not all health care professionals agree with the CDC's new guidelines. Many do not believe the honor system is enough to ensure that unvaccinated people remain masked, and the nurses' union National Nurses United has pointed out that 35,000 new Covid cases and 600 deaths are still reported per day in this country.

The union also condemned the CDC's policy of not monitoring Covid “breakthroughs” (i.e., Covid infections that circumvent the vaccine) unless they lead to hospitalization or death.

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There is also a charge, as I mentioned earlier, that people who still wear masks are traumatized. If being traumatized by recent history is a crime, I plead guilty.

I was old enough to have been reading and writing when the Twin Towers came down but young enough not to remember what it was like on that day. At a young age, just when I was getting used to my age being in the double digits, I came to the sickening realization that my country had gone to war - and violated basic human decency - based on unacceptably false intelligence at best - or, at worst, lies.

Meanwhile, I have gone through active shooter drills, and so has everyone else of my generation and younger, because it is an accepted fact that one of the easiest ways to achieve 15 minutes of fame in this country is to procure a semi-automatic weapon, go to a public place, and massacre innocents.

I have seen stories and videos of this country's police brutalizing people (mostly Black men, many Black women, but all colors, creeds, and sexes are represented). When I went to a police station for a routine matter, despite my pale skin and (I think) non-threatening manner, the cop I spoke to had a hand on her sidearm the entire time.

I witnessed a six-year escalation of hate and violence that started when the Gamergate scandal was seized upon by what was then called the alt-right. From outrage generated by a game journalist sleeping with a female game designer, the alt-right funneled impressionable people into a funnel of 4chan message boards, secret chat rooms on places like Discord, YouTube videos, and a series of ultra-right-wing websites. The same playbook was repeated with Pizzagate and QAnon.

Despite the idea that it was all “just online,” adherents were able to elect a president and to organize the Jan. 6 assault on our Capitol.

I am one of a small minority who will not have to suffer through the financial and emotional toil of student debt affecting my generation. I have lived through two financial crises of historic proportions, one even caused by the current pandemic.

In short, for most of my life, I have watched society constantly fail both me and those around me.

Yes, I'm traumatized.

Why aren't you?

* * *

As to the second accusation - paranoia - there are two definitions of the word.

The first is irrational fear or mistrust. I do not believe my fear of Covid is irrational. My mistrust of the CDC and the government is not based on some grand hallucination involving Illuminati or aliens. (Also, I'm Jewish, and therefore have firsthand knowledge that my fellow faithful can barely organize themselves to move from the sanctuary to the social hall at a bar mitzvah, much less all be in on some secret plot.)

No, my distrust of the government and the CDC has come from my observation, backed by history, that many differences between the previous and the current presidential administrations are not qualitative but quantitative. In other words, many people believe that there are no similarities whatsoever between our current president, Joe Biden, and the former guy.

In my opinion, there are paths between the two.

• The former president has been accused of rape; Biden has been accused of inappropriately touching women.

• The former president demonized and persecuted immigrants to rile up and energize his base; Biden has been slow to undo the damage because he wants to spend his political capital elsewhere.

• The former president instituted tariffs against China out of a misguided attempt to protect U.S. business; Biden has dragged his feet on releasing Covid vaccine patents in a misguided attempt to protect U.S. business.

• Most importantly, the former president lied a lot - more than any other. That does not mean that Biden does not lie.

My biggest fear - and, like it or not, there is evidence for this - is that Biden will declare an early victory against Covid and make compromises with experts and people who are tired of lockdowns for an easy victory. I pray this is not the case, and if it is, I pray that the gamble be successful.

Because if neither is true, people will die.

For now, I think I'll continue to wear my mask in public.

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