COVID enters new endemic phase, old disputes over vaccines and masks remain

By Jenna Kagel

Truckers and their supporters form a convoy bound for the nation's capital to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Adelanto, California, U.S. February 23, 2022. Photo by REUTERS/Gene Blevins.

After two years, COVID is dominating news coverage less and less, so does that mean people are less polarized over mask wearing or vaccine mandates?  

LA Times columnist Anita Chabria recently wrote about the uncertainty that lies ahead with COVID. Chabria remembers earlier in the pandemic when it was common to see videos of unmasked individuals walking into grocery stores and causing a scene, thus being deemed selfish because they weren’t thinking about the greater good. 

“For many of us, there was the sense of ‘that's not right,’” she says. “Now as we move into a phase where the rules are up in the air, it’s come down to personal choice in a lot of places. We have to decide for ourselves when we're gonna wear masks and when we're not, and how we feel about others’ choices.”

Chabria says that as we remove more COVID restrictions, there will always be a portion of the American population who believes that COVID was a hoax. The lifting of mask mandates will only fuel that fire. 

“There's a segment of that group that believes that by taking the masks off, by saying COVID is endemic instead of pandemic, it's a tacit admission by the government that none of it was real. Obviously, that is not true,” she says.

For many people, says Chabria, the pandemic was about more than just a virus. They formed communities, personal beliefs, and identities around it, especially those tied into the anti-COVID, anti-vaxx world.

“That is not going anywhere. If anything, that's going to get stronger,” she says. “You're gonna see a lot of that COVID energy moving into elections.”

On top of that, the divisions in race and socioeconomic status will also not fade away. The health and economic disparities existed before COVID, explains Chabria. “COVID just laid them bare. And I think that it's incumbent upon us to continue to be very aware of those, and aware that there are people in our community who are more vulnerable and will remain more vulnerable to COVID.”