Travelers wearing masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus disembark from a ferry at the port of Piraeus, the country’s busiest, on August 20. [Thanassis Stavrakis/AP]
Life amid the coronavirus pandemic is admittedly hard. The protection measures alone would not be such a problem if everyone observed them. That would avert so much unnecessary tension and misunderstanding.
Summer has officially come to a close, with a rising number of new cases and deaths – and a constant stream of pleas from the health authorities, aimed mainly at the young, for people to wear their masks and stay away from the vulnerable.
Keeping the pandemic in check while continuing social activities is a fine balancing act that requires a confluence of conflicting elements – and it is becoming increasingly apparent that not everyone is on the same page. Instead, the number of deniers seems to be growing in line with the need for more caution, stoking disobedience as regards the rules about masks, physical distancing, vaccinations or anything else that points to the prevalence of the coronavirus. And the wondrous world of the internet is there to introduce all sorts of eager shamans and conspiracy theorists to counter fears about the fragility of our existence and, mainly, the lack of a clear outlook.
But can we distinguish what is wrong from what is right? Are the voices of reason enough to drown out the deniers and loons? Probably not, because some (many, I’m afraid) dismiss the voices of reason as being systemic, puppets of the establishment, and there to toe the line, not challenge it. It is hard to convince them that you are simply listening to the experts and doctors, to the same people we turn to (even the deniers) when we ourselves are sick. The more you talk to coronavirus deniers, the more you realize that the problem is deeply structural.
A few days ago, I received a letter from an elementary school teacher in response to an op-ed on the use of masks in schools. She was not angry – just reconciled, I’d say, to a reality that is being blown out of all proportion for reasons unrelated to the school community. Her letter also reveals the division on the issue sowed by the opposition, though I will not dwell on that. Instead, I will present the following couple of extracts:
“We have a big problem with parents, but also with colleagues who share that mentality [of challenging the use of face masks]. I don’t mention the children as a problem because their attitude and behavior is, unfortunately, influenced by the sick mind-set of the adults… Believe me, as an educator, I have absolutely no influence over the children and their families, because parents – and younger parents in particular – have no appreciation of the opinions of educators and treat us like employees who are there to serve them.”
And in these few lines, the writer encapsulates the problem.