So much for a normal school year. Or a normal anything where two or more people gather.
If you’re a West Virginian who enjoyed the past three months mask-free, your summer is over. Already in Ohio and Kentucky, high school football games are being canceled because of COVID-19. School districts in those states have reinstituted masking requirements. Some counties in West Virginia have done likewise.
Just when you thought it was safe to go outside and breathe unfiltered air again, masks are making a comeback. If schools lead the way, are retail stores far behind?
To be fair, schools are a different environment from a big box retail store or an outdoor athletic venue. Rooms tend to be small, people tend to be crowded in there, and insufficient ventilation can leave airborne pathogens hanging in the air too long.
So what does this mean for other indoor activities, such as concerts and movies? We should find out soon.
West Virginia officially went mask-free on West Virginia Day, June 20, by declaration of Gov. Jim Justice. But people and businesses saw the declaration coming, and they took down their “mask required” signs and their tables with free disposable masks for shoppers weeks before.
Since then, Justice has avoided committing to any new mask policy. He leaves such decisions up to local authorities. Until recently, most local authorities had decided against issuing any new mandates, but with the start of the school year, that’s changed.
It’s good that the extreme measures taken in spring 2020 aren’t being talked about again. No one is suggesting police cruisers be stationed in our parks to prevent children from having fun on the playground. We do, however, need to have an honest conversation about what people can expect this fall and winter.
The delta variant shows that the novel coronavirus isn’t going away any more than the viruses that cause the flu or the common cold are. The question going forward is how we plan to live with it. This is a medical question, but it also involves questions that are basic to the American way of life. What sorts of restrictions should people accept for the common good? Is masking to be an annual expectation of fall and winter?
So forget the autumnal equinox, forget Labor Day and forget the first day of school. From here on out, if nothing changes, we will know that summer ends when mask mandates return. And for another year, West Virginia residents will continue to debate the usefulness of masks.