It’s Time to Fine Middle-Class Whites

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Source Health Department

We know how we get out of this COVID crisis and return to some normalcy. It will not fully happen until we get a vaccine, but I digress. The tools work, and one hundred and sixty-six nations have done this. New Zealand is the poster child of this, and they have returned to what looks normalcy. Incidentally, as an American, you can’t travel there. They have closed their borders to Americans, with another hundred and sixty-five nations.

We know the tools by now: it’s wearing of masks, washing hands, social distancing. It is testing, and of course contact tracing. The tools are not even new. They were part of the toolbox in 1918 (though they were not as robust. For example, some masks made out of gauze were not effective. And the test for influenza was developed during the pandemic. A vaccine did not come until well after the pandemic had gone away.)

My state has mandatory mask-wearing. We are still seeing crowds at the beach, for example, that do not wear masks or practice social distancing. These are areas popular with middle-class whites, and the crowds tend to be younger as well. They also attract tourists, which can be a problem. If this was a majority-minority area I am betting the police department would be issuing tickets. This is another disparity the pandemic has brought to sharp relief. Mostly white areas do not see enforcement of mandates. The crowds continue to grow and the police are not doing a thing. This will make controlling the beast harder. When this is brought up, some people bring up Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Yes, those are also happening, however, people are wearing masks and trying to keep some social distance. The beach has none of this.


Don’t get me wrong, we are all itching for normalcy. But it will not come back until we control this beast. At one point experts spoke of a second wave in the fall. Other countries that have controlled this beast will have a second wave. We have not gotten out of the first to begin with. I suspect part of the reason is the confusing messaging at all levels of government. This means that many people have tuned out all messages. Also, from early on, young white people know they will not get sick. Or if they do, it will not be serious. This is not necessarily the case, but the message from public health and politicians has not been consistent. Also, I suspect minorities are getting sicker and more often because they work in front line jobs where they are exposed to the virus more often.

Then there is mitigation. While public health and local politicians keep telling people to wear their masks, the President and his party have made this political. Never mind the virus does not care about politics. Some governors have also implemented face-covering mandates, while others keep making light of the virus. Yes, it does track to a political party because of Republicans in general distrust experts. This is not new.

Then there is the far-right media bubble, including radio and the internet. In the radio sphere, people like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin have made fun of the threat and continue to call it the flu. They also insist on using racist terms when talking about the virus, and so does the president. This has two effects. The first is that their audiences doubt the experts. This is not new, and. It tracks to the climate emergency, seat bets, and tobacco. None of this is accidental. In the United States, big business has a lot of sways and will fight any necessary changes that could affect the bottom line. The second is that it’s led to attacks on Asian-Americans.

We also have the shifting series of messages from the White House that is desperate to open the economy. This is why they need schools to open and why the president keeps saying that children are not likely to get the disease, and if they do, it’s a nothing burger. Never mind that they are good disease vectors. But this does not sway the president. And yes, we could open safety, but we need to keep the transmission under one, and that requires the kinds of measures that are simple but Americans refuse to do.

It is not just a particular sense of entitlement and individuality that pervades certain sectors of society. Yes, they are a problem. But the lack of clear messaging from the top, and the politicization of public health, has made this almost impossible. Nor does it help that we have groups committed to spread misinformation and use this to further divide the nation.

We are at a point when local police need to start enforcing these mandates. I do not care that they will have to fine whites. This is precisely how the biases in policing are showing up. It made sense, early in the mandate, to speak to people. All new laws have a short period where officers have the discretion to talk and educate people. We are well outside that range. And when police say they will no enforce it is also is part of the messaging.

I understand some departments (most in fact) have their knickers in a Knott as citizens ask for meaningful reforms as to how law enforcement does the job. This is precisely one reason why people are still in the streets. People know that if departments could over police minorities for not wearing masks, they would. NYPD did, for example. But police have an issue doing this with middle-class whites. You may call it implicit bias. You might call it a lack of resources since police departments do not deploy enough officers to these areas. You may say it is not their job (enforcement is in the form of a misdemeanor). You may even claim that this is not constitutional. And if that is the case, I urge you to find a lawyer that will take the case, and take this to court. There is a long history of the courts deferring to local authorities in times of disease.

What is clear is that until we have compliance, as other nations have done, we cannot open schools safely. We all want young people to go back to school, wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands is part of the toolset. So it is time for law enforcement to do more than just watch. It is time to issue tickets. And if that means policing white people who are better connected and may have a lawyer, so be it.

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