I’m still constantly receiving these little reports from across the US (and Canada!) detailing the petty indignities and absurdities to which people are subjected in the name of this-or-that overheated COVID concern.
Does every last report amount to full-blown authoritarian tyranny? Not really — most probably wouldn’t even register as particularly attention-getting on their own. But the thing I keep coming back to is the cumulative pettiness — how corrosive the sheer quantity of snippets like ones I’ll list in this post, taken in aggregate, must be to the social order.
Which makes the “Omicron” subject, however tiresome, impossible to avoid — much as one might wish to focus on other things, and even as media outlets have begun to acknowledge that the “wave” has “crested.” Because the thing about waves is that they recede, and then they come back, and then the process repeats for eternity. Hence why the eternal-seeming quality of these measures is of particular note. I know this is a wearying and increasingly boring topic; yet there really is a de facto “gag order” in place at so many institutions still laboring under ridiculous protocols, even approaching the two year mark of this whole ordeal, and even with the most frantic segment of COVID-fixators increasingly confined to a somewhat marginal fringe.
For instance, a journalist recently contacted me about COVID-related policy excesses taking place in a particular jurisdiction. The journalist was frustrated that these excesses were not being given sufficient attention. And he/she was right — although I’m purposely not naming the jurisdiction here for maximum discretion, because the journalist was simultaneously adamant that his/her name not be mentioned in any forthcoming report I may do on the matter.
“Some people I work with and many in the media tend to lean heavy on being pro-COVID restrictions,” the journalist told me, “and I’d like to not be associated with the controversy… Perhaps call it cowardice and self-censorship, but I just got this job and don’t want to jeopardize sources/contacts.”
So: even if you personally feel no inhibition about criticizing ridiculous COVID protocols, even if you’re openly scornful of “Omicron” somehow necessitating the re-imposition of various kinds of hygiene theater, and even if you inhabit a social/professional milieu where there is no taboo against maligning “public health” apparatchiks — please just realize there are millions of people who find themselves in a radically different position. Yes, even now, regardless of “Omicron” supposedly ebbing, and despite much of the country having long ago ceased to treat anything COVID-related as important to their lives.
Still, there are a multitude of contexts in which publicly objecting to various aspects Omicron-mania, no matter how narrowly-tailored those objections may be, could automatically place you under a cloud of suspicion — whereby you’re tarnished as “anti-vax” (regardless of whether you are personally vaccinated.) And of course, being “anti-vax” is widely viewed as interchangeable with being dangerously right-wing, which would also make you presumably sympathetic to “insurrectionists” — or perhaps even an “insurrectionist” yourself. Should we get the FBI on the phone, sir? The “MAGA” connotation here is especially odd, given that Donald Trump could not be more resolute in staking out an unwaveringly pro-vaccine stance, but the logical progression doesn’t have to make sense. This is more or less the school of thought that still, yes, today, dictates the social expectations at a wide variety of institutions, leading to absurdities of the kind that I’m about to list here. Someone’s gotta collect these, I guess, for posterity. Notwithstanding how very tedious it is. So, that’s what I’m doing.
Here’s a wild one I was told about recently: Oberlin College. Are you familiar with it? Depending on your level of familiarity, it may or may not surprise you that the dramatic “return to campus” earlier this month was accompanied by a host of hyper-scrupulous measures to ensure maximum Safety for the Community™. Professors — yes, fully accredited professors — were enlisted as emergency food delivery attendants for students consigned to “isolation.” This process entailed intensive “training” sessions, including instruction on the “Knock, Drop, Depart” rule, as well as how to accommodate students’ special dietary needs. (By the way, Oberlin recently laid off a huge percentage of its actual food service staff.)
Did you think “travel bans” were a thing of the past? Not at Princeton University, where students have been prohibited from traveling outside of Mercer County, NJ. (Mercifully, they’re also allowed to go to Plainsboro Township, in adjoining Middlesex County.) Anyone brazen enough to seek an exemption must undergo an unspecified “vetting process,” according to Dean Jill Dolan, who I hope it’s not rude to note is a Theater professor moonlighting as the university’s chief epidemiologist and emergency behavioral scientist. She previously ran the Gender and Sexuality Studies program. Here’s an excerpt from a recent town hall-style session in which Dean Dolan addresses carefully-moderated student queries:
And here is the highly scientific, evidence based, scrupulously empirical justification set forward by Dean Dolan for the travel ban:
Repeat after me: Keep our community safe. Keep our campus safe. We will be safe if you all behave safely. Safety is our first priority. If you’re not with us, you’re with the virus. Still today, at places like Princeton, grievances can often only be aired in private about the constant dreary pronouncements from official authorities purporting to be so very concerned for your health and safety, yadda yadda yadda.
Moving away from the always-fertile ground of college-based inanity for a moment, how about this: a few weeks ago, a guy showed up to accompany his pregnant wife for an ultrasound appointment in Washington State… only to be greeted by the familiar sight of an ALL CAPS notice posted sternly to the door, informing him that he was unable to attend the appointment on “safety” grounds. He was therefore deemed an ineligible “guest,” despite being one of two people directly involved in the impregnation process. Inquiries with the individual working at the front desk did not yield much in the way of fruitful clarifying information, as one might expect.
Unvaccinated middle schoolers were barred from taking part in extracurricular activities in San Jose, CA, where — by the way — a first-of-its-kind “booster” requirement was also recently enacted.
That is to say, in order to attend a San Jose Sharks hockey game or any other “large” event taking place at a city-owned facility, one must now provide proof not just of vaccinated status, but “boosted” status. In other words, you’re no longer “fully vaccinated” unless you’re thrice-vaccinated for the purposes of attending an NHL game. Enjoy.
And here’s a friendly “Double Masking Requirement” that was decreed at the University of Pennsylvania:
Trust me when I say I could go on and on with this. And the above items are all from just the past month. Question: regardless of whether you’re personally in a position to ignore such decrees, for which you should be thankful, do you have confidence that the “wave” is ever going to be declared officially “receded” at places like these? Or is it only a matter of time before they bureaucratize another “tsunami” into existence?
* * *