Two years ago, when the coronavirus first swept across the country, Americans went out of their way to praise those on the front lines of the pandemic, from doctors and nurses to firefighters and grocery store cashiers. We splashed our thanks on billboards and lawn signs and television ads. For several months we opened our doors and windows at 7 p.m. to applaud exhausted health care workers.
When the virus first broke out, we had the resolve to deal with it, but not the tools. We were left washing our hands, our doorknobs, our groceries. We worked from makeshift offices in our bedrooms and ordered out for dinner, making sure to overtip the delivery driver.
It is now becoming increasingly clear that we need to rally the same way in support of vaccines, testing and masking, or we may find ourselves entering 2023 still waiting for a return to “normal.”
We have the tools — vaccines, rapid tests and masks — to beat back the virus but seem to have lost our resolve. That has opened the door for those looking to block or unravel whatever progress has been made against COVID-19 over the past several months.
There is no better example of that sad fact than the hijacking of an important Beverly Board of Health meeting by online trolls earlier this week.
The board was attempting to hold a meeting to discuss the possibility of instituting mask and vaccine mandates in the city in response to a holiday- and omicron-fueled surge in positive cases. The meeting had yet to be called to order when it was taken over by mask and vaccine opponents — many of them from outside the city — hell bent on keeping a vote from being taken.
“(Beverly Mayor Michael) Cahill is going to get about 500 protesters in front of his house,” said one person with a censored phone number as his name.
“We should be in front of Michelle Wu’s house,” said another anonymous participant, referencing the mayor of Boston, where a vaccine mandate was just put in place.
“Let’s burn her house down too,” said an attendee with the screen name Andrew Jackson.
Now, police are investigating the threats and the residents of Beverly have to wait until the Board of Health can hold a meeting uninterrupted before steps can be taken to keep them safe from the latest surge.
When did our neighbors become our enemies?
It’s not just Beverly. An anti-vaccine crowd shut down a New Hampshire Executive Council meeting earlier this fall, delaying $27 million in federal funding aimed at supporting vaccination efforts. Even New Hampshire Republicans were taken aback.
“This behavior is totally unacceptable because it tears at the very fabric of New Hampshire’s long tradition of respectful civil discourse,” New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse said at the time. “Government must be allowed to carry out the people’s business free from intimidation and disruption.”
The fact is that most Massachusetts and New Hampshire residents — like everywhere else in America — strongly favor masking requirements. A solid majority approve of at least some vaccine mandates.
But their voices are not being heard. Residents are not turning out in droves at health board meetings to show their support for vaccines and mask mandates, most likely because those people are already vaccinating and are wearing a mask when necessary.
Maybe it’s because people are growing tired. Six in 10 Americans say they feel worn out by pandemic-related changes they’ve had to make to their daily lives, according to a Monmouth University poll, with 64% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats saying they feel at least a little worn out by the coronavirus.
But the result is that the anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-science crowd is becoming the loudest voice in the room. As cases rise to record levels, that can’t continue to happen in the new year.