Erie at Large: COVID Karens
The dangerous precedent of indulging false victimhood
We're all tired of the masks. We are. But most of us who choose to wear them do so because we know that wearing a mask prevents us from unintentionally spreading coronavirus to people who may be at greater risk for serious health complications.
Call it adulting. Call it common courtesy. Whatever you call it, it's just the right thing to do.
That's what makes the past few weeks so comically depressing. In what seems like an all too common occurrence, the evening news and our local newspaper features women and men attending school board meetings throughout Erie County to demand that each district lift their respective mask mandates. The courts, and slowly health officials, are overturning the decisions that put those mandates in place during much more dangerous times, and the nation — for the most part — is coming to terms with the reality that sooner or later we're going to need to find our new normal.
Unfortunately, that new normal includes COVID Karen and COVID Ken, the bleach blonde moms and balding dads who stand before our school boards, tears in their eyes and lips quivering as they recite juris Latin, mask-scarred children at their side.
I imagine the prelude to these meetings goes something like this:
"Get dressed, kids," says mom. "We're going to school tonight."
"But mom, we already went to school today," reply the children.
"I know, kids. But we have to go back and fight for your freedoms," mom declares.
"Fight for our freedoms! Just like the Ukrainians? We learned about that in class today," the kids share.
"Yes," mom says with a tear in her eye. "You'll never have to breathe your own breath again."
In late February when the Millcreek School Board met to reconsider its masking policy, one mother was quoted in the Erie Times-News as having told the board, "too little, too late." For parents like her, their children have suffered some irreconcilable harm, although there is little evidence as to what such harm might be. Missing toothy smiles, I suppose.
Another parent told the school board that this was a violation of parents' choice, a concept that informs a parent's option to choose an alternative to public schooling, not an ideal that allows them to dictate curriculum or behavior inside the school.
A student also spoke at this particular school board meeting to inform the board that students were mandated to wear masks "against their will, and the will of their parents," the Times-News reported. Should we also exempt students from the math and science classes that many of them lack the will to attend? Perhaps he "opted out" on the lesson of the tragedy of the commons.
The real effect of this pandemic on our school students remains to be seen. In addition to the educational lag created by districts and families that lacked the basic resources to educate students remotely over the past two years, the impact of students watching their parents model outrageous behavior in public fights that conflate common good and individual liberty will be even more damning for society once we've established our new endemic normal.
Less than a generation from now, the children of Karen and Ken will rebel against speed limits, seat belts, and the kind of mayonnaise used to make their sandwiches because it doesn't suit them.
The good people who run for office, having been fed up with the wayward rantings of Karen and Ken over the size and shape of tater tots in their children's lunch, will all have resigned their offices for a more meaningful existence.
For the freedom fighters, it will be like Fight Club, but without purposeful violence or Bob Paulson's bosom to lull them back to civility.
Let's hope I'm wrong.
In the end, the best we can hope for is that the new normal includes safe communities driven by smart decisions.
As acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter recently said, "moving forward does not mean ignoring COVID-19. We have the knowledge and tools needed to make smart decisions guided by public health research to keep ourselves and our communities safer."
But in too many corners of our lives, our leaders are choosing to do less — or what little they can — in order to silence the real woke mob of social media warriors and the emboldened spokespeople of the ignorant class motivated by the misinformation that populates their own personal echo chambers.
If that's the legacy of this moment, this pandemic and its artificially scarred masses might just live on forever.
Jim Wertz is a contributing editor and chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party. You can email him at jWertz@eriereader.com and you can follow him on Twitter @jim_wertz.