I’ve just returned from a family business trip to the Bay Area of California. During my time I visited large cities, like San Francisco and Oakland; smaller ones, such as Alameda and Walnut Creek; and towns in more rural areas – for example, Sonoma.
As many readers of this article will remember, at the height of the COVID-19 ‘emergency’, under the ‘leadership’ of totalitarian state Governor Gavin Newsom, California was at the forefront of actioning ‘measures’ to stem the progress of the ‘deadly’ coronavirus. Amongst the slew of useless and self-harming intrusions imposed upon Californians, highly prominent was the demand that people masked up. Indeed, just days before his ill-fated visit to the wildly expensive Napa dining hot spot, the French Laundry, Newsom had preached at his fellow citizens, “Going out to eat with members of your household this weekend? Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites.” Throughout his dinner at the exclusive restaurant, Newson was, of course, maskless.
From his prominent perch, Newsom was the worst of the California Covidian evangelists; but there were plenty of others who lectured and dictated to the populace, whilst excusing themselves from the mass mask madness. The hypocrite list is long and includes the likes of San Francisco Mayor, London Breed, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi and nonagenarian Senator, Dianne Feinstein.
Sadly, Californians followed the demands of these ‘leaders’, and riven with fear of a virus with a recovery rate of 99.9%, whether they were inside or outdoors, strapped cloth to their faces. Alongside other mandates such as lockdowns, social distancing and ‘working from home’, masking helped turn cities like San Francisco into living stage sets for a future remake of The Walking Dead.
More than three years on from the initial panic, what has changed? In some ways, quite a lot. Masks are no longer required to be worn. Even in healthcare settings, they are yesterday’s thing. The majority no longer wear them. But the numbers of those that do remains surprisingly high. Inside or out; while walking or driving; in restaurants, supermarkets and banks, the remnants of the masked are visible. The most troubling instance of mask wearing that I witnessed was in the city library in Alameda, a pleasant, affluent, suburban community sitting in the Bay, close to Oakland. Here a woman ushered her two young children, all three sporting brightly coloured cloth masks, past me whilst clinging to the wall, keeping her distance and maintaining a wide-eyed stare on my unmasked visage. The stupidest example of misplaced faith in a strip of cloth? That has to be the security guard-cum-receptionist in the atrium of the Californian state employees’ Walnut Creek administration offices who, sitting behind his desk, surrounded by Perspex screens, rushed to put on a mask as we approached at a distance of 50 feet.
So why, like Japanese soldiers who for decades after WW2 ended hid out on distant Pacific Islands, are some Californians unable to realise that the war against Covid is – if it ever started – over? Notwithstanding the appalling state of the infrastructure in California, the almost overwhelming tide of homeless folk living in tented ‘cities’ within their cities, the sky-high cost of living,and the rising crime rates, the natural setting of the Bay Area is beautiful. The weather and environment are wonderful: fresh, clean air, with, for most, ample opportunities for exercise just a short distance away. Yet substantial numbers, maybe as many as 1 in 5, still wear masks outdoors (and the number is probably even greater indoors).
Certainly, the heritage mix within the Bay Area must be a factor. The largest ethnic group are Asians, with Chinese, Japanese and Koreans prominently represented; people who were culturally already more likely to wear face masks. Also, from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the Bay Area has form when it comes to ‘giving many hard days of sacrifice to battle’ RNA viruses using masks. And, resonating in the Democrat-dominated Bay Area, during the COVID-19 era polling found that ‘liberals’ were more likely to wear masks than Republicans.
But there are other undercurrents at work: for some the removal of mask mandates does not reflect a triumph of common sense, nor even that the virus has been defeated and the world is safer, but that danger has just been increased. In California, disability advocates have been campaigning for the reintroduction of masks and say that “Some patients with chronic illness may avoid treatment rather than risk contracting COVID-19”. Put simply, thanks to the likes of Newsom, Breed, Pelosi and Feinstein, there are Californians who are too frightened to live without a mask.
As Smile Free’s Dr. Gary Sidley wrote in his recent article documenting TFL’s continuing encouragement to wear them, for many using a mask has become a way of coping with the real world and in the long run will ‘needlessly perpetuate anxiety’. What I’ve witnessed in the Bay Area is that the ‘long run’ is already with us.
Paul Stevens is a member of Smile Free which campaigns for the end of mask mandates and masking.