For most people, the COVID-19 pandemic is done and dusted. A traumatic period in our lives that can now thankfully be confined to the dustbin of history. When before we were forced to wear face masks, now companies such as In-N-Out are banning employees from wearing them without a good reason, as the Publica reported last week.
Perhaps the biggest evidence of our return to normalcy was seen just last weekend, when the smash hit films Barbie and Oppenheimer simultaneously opened in theaters, marking the biggest box office openings since 2019. “The Pandemic Is Officially Over,” the New York Times wrote on Sunday, in what seems to be a triumphant celebration of the end of three long, strange years.
But for a surprisingly active section of online commentators, the post-pandemic return to life and leisure accurately noted by the New York Times was simply “peak COVID minimization.”
Dr. Lucky Tran, a “public health” advocate who railed against In-N-Out’s decision to restrict the wearing of face masks, argued that the media are “desperate” to declare the end of the pandemic and “want to create the illusion that COVID is over so they can profit.”
Dr. Tran is not alone. A cursory search on social media, especially of X (formerly Twitter), reveals hashtags and discourse related to #CovidIsAirborne, or #CovidIsntOver, with thousands of people still asserting that COVID-19 is an imminent risk to humanity.
“It’s a dreaded but needed Costco run/stock up,” tweeted Christine Cooper, a Canadian woman who regularly hosts digital spaces on the risks of COVID-19.
“I’m 1 of about 7 people in the whole place masked and I’m owning it like a boss,” she wrote last week, accompanying her commentary with a photo of her wearing a pink face mask in her local Costco. “Masking saves lives (including my own). I’m happy to help stop the spread of an airborne pathogen. #MaskUp.”
Though data released earlier this year demonstrated that wearing a standard face mask was not effective in preventing vulnerable people from catching COVID-19, many “always-maskers” insist it is a scientifically-backed way of preventing the spread of the virus.
“I don’t get on my bike without a bike helmet and I don’t get on a train without a mask. Both are simple ways for me to protect my health & life. If you regularly wear a bike helmet, but not a mask, why? #CovidIsNotOver,” Colette Rose posted, boasting a photo of herself wearing a face mask while holding a cycling helmet.
According to data from the World Health Organization, the week that saw the most deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic was that of January 18, 2021, with a record of 103,728 deaths worldwide recorded. In the same week this year, they recorded just 22,055 deaths attributed to COVID-19. The most recent data, with the week ending July 24, only 99 people across the globe are said to have died from COVID-19.
Even with this massive drop in mortality from the peak of the pandemic, the opinions amongst “always-maskers” is that those who do not continue socially distancing or wearing masks are simply selfish. As Plague Poems, writes:
“Should you find yourself called weird for still wearing a mask, you just need to remember that in our present society it is considered weird to give a damn about other people.”
Some pro-mask advocates are even arguing that mandatory masking, including indoors, must be re-implemented.
“The virus hasn’t changed the way it spreads,” Angela Vázquez argued. “One-way masking has never kept vulnerable people safe. Remember when we remembered that? I just want masks indoors in non social situations. Like, it’s just polite to not assume what others’ risk level or risk tolerance is?”
Others have actually designed customized face-shields with built-in HEPA filters so they feel comfortable going to the store or sitting through flights.
Even fitness influencers have been pushing pro-mask rhetoric, with one regularly posting photos of himself in the gym while wearing an industrial respirator.
“Had a really rainy but all around great chest and tricep workout today in my GVS P-100,” he wrote. “Health and fitness can/should involve avoiding a Biohazard Level 3 Pathogen.
At the peak of the pandemic, governments around the world were quick to hand out face masks and covid tests to try and stop the spread. Most nations slowly saw these efforts creep to a close at the end of 2021, but grassroots pro-mask groups have taken it upon themselves to pick up the slack.
“I’m worried that there will be a mass dash for masks when H5N1 or whatever else becomes a publicized threat and we (mask distro mutual aid organizers) won’t be prepared with sufficient infrastructure and supplies,” tweeted Rowan Lou, who is behind one of the many “mask bloc”accounts on social media.
Lou described the success of Barbie and Oppenheimer as being “f**king… box office eugenics.”
Cropping up in San Francisco, North Carolina, Philadelphia, and other areas, anarchist-aligned “mutual aid” groups appear to spend their days handing out face masks to the public, and retweeting vaguely threatening memes.
Ironically, just as the eternal-pandemic crowd argues about how the choices of normal people affect the most vulnerable, their choices have many of the same consequences.
“My son and I mask every day when at school (I teach at his school). He is autistic and has ADHD and OCD,” tweeted Lisa Singer. “His courage and resolve keep me going. He is often the only one in his classes masking but he is too smart to be dissuaded.”