On March 12, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused it.
On March 23, 2020, Northam imposed the first public health restrictions: Restaurants and gyms were closed and social distancing requirements were put in place. I complied. It was the right thing to do. We had to do what we could to slow the spread and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.
On March 30, 2020, Northam imposed a broad stay-at-home order and a prohibition on most public gatherings. I complied.
On May 29, 2020, Northam imposed an indoor mask mandate. I condemned the mandate as “pseudoscience,” which was perhaps too strong a word. I knew that only medical-grade N95 masks could reliably block out viruses, but I underestimated the effectiveness of simple cloth barriers in blocking respiratory droplets, which are the primary way this virus spreads. Simple cloth masks won’t stop individual, aerosolized virus particles, but they will stop the big globs of spit and snot that carry thousands or millions of them. But even though I thought the requirement was off-base at the time, I complied.
I came to support reasonable masking policies. Cloth masks are useful in limiting the spread of the virus in prolonged close-contact settings. They are unnecessary outdoors, and even indoors when social distancing of more than six feet is possible. But even when the requirements went beyond what was scientifically justifiable, I complied.
When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the White House Coronavirus Task Force released their three-phase reopening guidelines, I supported them. I had some minor gripes and disagreements about the details, but they were generally sound. As Virginia moved through the reopening steps, I complied . . . even when Northam’s policies lagged far behind the federal recommendations.
When Northam kept us mired in “Phase 3” long after we should have moved past it, I still complied. I’m a good citizen. I follow the rules even when I don’t completely agree with them.
On November 13, 2020, when Northam reversed course and started re-imposing restrictions on public gatherings because of the fall spike of cases, I complied. Even though I thought the concerns were overblown, and even though it had become clear that COVID-19 was not nearly as deadly or dangerous as it first seemed, I knew it was still a serious problem. We were “all in this together.”
When the COVID-19 vaccines became available, I was suspicious. This was a novel disease, and the vaccines, based on mRNA technology, were new and untested. So I asked questions. I did research. I became comfortable with the safety of mRNA technology, which has been in development and testing for decades. The risk was not zero, but it was acceptable. The vaccines are likely safe. And I knew that being vaccinated against COVID-19 would soon allow me to take off the mask, get together with friends, and have freedom of travel. So when Loudoun County, Virginia, expanded vaccine availability to the general public, I signed up.
In other words, I complied.
I got my first Pfizer shot on March 31, 2021, a year and a day after Northam imposed the first broad stay-at-home order in Virginia. I got the second dose on April 30. On May 14, I officially joined the ranks of the “fully vaccinated.” A day later, Northam ended Virginia’s indoor mask mandate, though unvaccinated Virginians were asked to continue wearing masks voluntarily. Most of the rest of the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on May 28, and Virginia’s state of emergency ended on June 30.
I did my part. I complied. For more than a year, even when I disagreed with the rules or questioned their epidemiological merit, I played along. I wanted to be a good citizen. I wanted to do my part to “slow the spread.” I wanted to protect my friends and neighbors from a disease that, though harmless for most, still killed at a rate significantly higher than the seasonal flu. So I griped on Facebook about the pronouncements that didn’t have a solid scientific basis, but still wore a mask, avoided crowds, and got vaccinated. I did everything that was asked of me, whether or not it made sense, whether or not it did any good.
That ends today.
I have gone this far. I can go no further.
I’m not “anti-science.” I’m not a Trumpy conspiracy theorist. (I did endorse President Donald Trump (R) in 2016 and 2020, but unenthusiastically.) I know that COVID-19 is real and potentially dangerous, even though the danger has been exaggerated by many public figures. I respect my political leaders even when I question them. I agree that governments have more authority than they might normally have when they’re in the middle of a public health emergency. I have undergone a fair amount of public health training. I’m a Medical Reserve Corps volunteer. I love to learn. I love science. And I love the truth.
Until now, everything the government has asked me to do during the COVID-19 pandemic has been at least theoretically justifiable. Even when they imposed rules that I didn’t agree with, I could at least see where they were coming from. I know that I’m not always right. I was wrong when I believed that basic cloth masks would be completely useless against a coronavirus; they are in-fact useful in prolonged close-contact situations. I was wrong when I believed, based on unreliable early data and a hoped-for parallel with the seasonal flu, that COVID-19 would fizzle-out in 2020’s summer heat. My batting average on COVID-19 prediction is above average, but it sure as hell isn’t perfect. This is a novel virus. It doesn’t always behave the way we expect.
But I believe in the science. I believe in the vaccines. I know that I, as a fully vaccinated adult, pose virtually no risk to you or your grandma. I know that if I put on a mask now, it is mere theater. It would be nothing more than a feel-good gesture that does no real good for anybody.
The “delta variant” of SARS-CoV-2 is indeed more virulent than previous variants of the disease. It is more likely to “break through” immunity, whether by previous infection or by vaccination. When it does, it manages to build up a viral load that is enough to cause spread. Even so, only a tiny percentage of vaccinated people ever catch and spread it. This new variant doesn’t really change anything. Even if it doubled or tripled its ability to spread among vaccinated people versus previous variants, that would still account for only a tiny percentage of overall cases.
COVID-19 is, basically, spreading only among the unvaccinated. And in the United States, anybody who wants the vaccine has had the opportunity to receive it. By in large, the people who are catching it now are the people who chose not to get the vaccine. They are free to make that choice. I will defend to the death their right to decide for themselves what they inject into their bodies. But they alone are responsible for the consequences of their choices.
I bear no responsibility for the risk they have accepted. I don’t have to do anything to protect them when they have made a conscious decision not to protect themselves. We live in a golden age of information. Anything you want to know, you can find out in a matter of minutes. So make your decision. Own it. And leave me alone to do the same.
I’ve done my part, and then some. I stayed at home. I wore my mask. I even got a vaccination that I wasn’t completely certain was safe (I’m about 98% certain). Sometimes I griped, but I always complied. I did this for you, for my family, for my friends, for my community, and, yes, for myself. I did it because I love my country and I love my neighbor.
But finally, a year and four months later, I’m just not going to do it anymore. I’m moving on with my life now. I’m not going to live in fear. I’m not going to be a slave to nonsensical, unscientific, fascist drivel from wannabe dictators and self-important bureaucrats. You can if you want, but I won’t.
You want me to wear a mask now? After everything I’ve done up ’til now? You want to go backwards? You want to ignore everything we know and all the progress we’ve made? You want to put the science aside? You want to impose your views, no matter how ignorant, no matter how unscientific, on everybody around you? You think you have the right to tell everybody around you how to live?
Well f*** you.
I’m done. I will not comply anymore.