As Omicron case counts and deaths have spiked and then plummeted across the United States and the rest of the world, many nations like England and Denmark — which throughout the pandemic have had the most draconian public health mandates — have realized that they have been futile or are simply no longer needed, and have begun to abandon them to restore normality to citizens’ lives.
Despite this, the federal government — most notably members of the Biden administration — still seem intent on travel restrictions, requirements for boosters, and for many schoolchildren, firm mandates for both vaccinations and medical-grade masks. At every school board meeting I attend, I hear hundreds of parents desperately demanding an end to mandates after describing their severe psychological, social, health, and academic impact on their children, while a very small but vocal minority of parents insists on keeping mask, vaccination, distancing, testing and quarantine mandates in place as part of an effort to “stop the spread” of COVID-19. As a doctor, I have been devastated to hear numerous stories of unvaccinated schoolchildren being shunned and ridiculed by their own friends and classmates, who accuse them of being “murderers” and “selfish”.
Nearly two years of COVID has sharply divided our society along new tribal lines: those who want their lives, as well as those of others, to revolve around a “new normal” of avoiding COVID infection at all costs (the “Covidians”) versus those who are ready to accept what, for most, is now a very small risk to go back to their pre-COVID lives. This division has also normalized an unfortunate and immature culture of virtue signaling, shaming, humiliation, censorship, and physical separation, not limited to schools, that has torn apart families, destroyed friendships, and pitted complete strangers against one another based on nothing more than outward expressions of COVID avoidance.
We are not in a civil war, as some have argued, but we are in a civil cold war in which tensions are high and everyone is on edge, waiting to be insulted or attacked by someone who disagrees with their level of COVID anxiety. We cannot continue to function as a civil society unless we reverse this tribalism, end the civil cold war, and live together harmoniously and respectfully. While I favor making most COVID measures optional now that the pandemic has evolved, I respect opposing beliefs and believe that our only alternative to constantly fighting is to peacefully coexist. Many feel this conflict is hopeless, but our challenges are not unprecedented. In 1787, the framers of our Constitution had to resolve a fierce division between smaller states, which wanted equal representation, and larger states that wanted proportional representation. In what is known as the Great Compromise, they decided to do both, giving us the House and Senate.
It is now time for a 2022 version of the Great Compromise. We must acknowledge that there are many who, for their own personal reasons which are not necessarily grounded in science, will always retain a significant fear of infection or death from COVID, however improbable it might be, and accommodate those who are guided by fear and media soundbites (plus those who are legitimately at risk due to age or medical comorbidities) in a manner that respects everyone else’s freedom to enjoy their lives. How can we achieve this? By bringing back the antiquated “smoking section” to every aspect of society that would require maximal COVID precautions, Los Angeles-style, including vaccinations (including all boosters), rapid antigen testing, and a professionally fitted N95 mask worn at all times:
Schools: Designate one classroom per grade level, or one entire K-12 campus per district, that would maintain post-exposure quarantining, daily testing, plexiglass barriers between students, and a ban on group play, sports, or singing — all things that local schools here in Santa Monica have done.
Restaurants: Create a special section, blocked off by plexiglass partition, where eligible customers must wear an N95 mask all times except while the mouth is transiently open to consume food or beverage, but not while chewing or swallowing.
Theaters, Stadiums, Planes, Trains, and Buses: Have partitioned sections for eligible customers and ban any food or drink so that masks are never taken off.
Stores: Establish a designated shopping hour, early in the morning so the air hasn’t been tainted by the unmasked and unvaccinated, for eligible customers to shop fully distanced, among N95-wearing employees.
Once we take these measures, we should finally be able to drop the shaming and humiliation by allowing every person to choose whether to live normally or live as a Covidian whose life is dominated by COVID avoidance. And perhaps, over time, the number of Covidians will shrink or disappear as they see their neighbors living normal, healthy lives, so we can all go back to normal.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
Houman David Hemmati, M.D., Ph.D. is a board-certified ophthalmologist and biomedical research scientist in Santa Monica, California. Dr. Hemmati earned a BS in Biological Sciences from Stanford University, an MD from UCLA School of Medicine, and a PhD from Caltech, and completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Stanford Hospital, an ophthalmology residency at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a postdoctoral research fellowship in chemical engineering at MIT, and a clinical fellowship at Harvard Medical School. He has co-founded and helps run two pharmaceutical companies developing treatments for eye diseases like macular degeneration, and has published extensively in the areas of stem cell research and blinding eye diseases.