Refusal to Cover Faces Is Unmasking the Privilege at UGA

Like most of you, the Ol’ Bloviator has not exactly been bombarded with good news here of late. That’s why he had to check his eyes and his sobriety—both earned a bare pass, by the way—upon seeing the announcement that the governor and the University System of Georgia had finally backed off their refusal to follow the example of public institutions in all contiguous states by requiring students to wear masks when in-person instruction begins this fall. 

Ironically enough, the rationale for this willfully obtuse stance was that the Guv and USG were merely following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. This sudden attentiveness to CDC directives seems a bit out of character for Brian Kemp, to say the least. More than one in five coronavirus tests were still coming back positive as of April 20 when he announced that he would allow gyms, barbershops, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys and, ultimately, restaurants to reopen, this despite the CDC’s warning that such a move would be extremely risky until it was clear that “the incidence of infection is genuinely low.” Apparently, he had also missed the memo several weeks earlier, when the same CDC experts cautioned that even asymptomatic victims of the virus could spread it to others. This rather critical piece of information, it seems, had come to his attention only on the eve of his grudging and long-overdue announcement that he was imposing the aforementioned restrictions in the first place. 

In reality, of course, the real, albeit flimsy, basis for Kemp and Co.’s resistance to requiring students to wear masks lay not in what CDC guidelines actually said, but in what they did not. The CDC officially recommends wearing masks “in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Yet Kemp and Co. had seized on the absence of any explicit—as opposed to clearly implicit—recommendation that this practice be mandated whenever possible as a justification for their refusal to do just that. 

In any event, Kemp and Co.’s retreat on requiring students to mask up on campus is a hard-won but vitally important victory for the O.B.’s former colleagues on the UGA faculty, half of whom are over 50. It would be ironic indeed if this latest example of ongoing encroachment on what have traditionally been on-campus decisions by the governor and the USG has introduced an enduring element of activism into a faculty culture where it has been noticeably lacking heretofore. 

Forget mere disingenuousness, this reeks of the kind of bald-faced dishonesty that comes second nature to the Guv’s currently estranged role model, the ol’ Tweety Bird himself. Though Kemp surely knows full well what needs to be done, he also senses that doing it would not go down well with his core constituency in the way-out-yonder counties. Hence, his recent “Wear-A-Mask” tour was a futile exercise in bipolarity, as he pled earnestly with Georgians around the state to mask up on the one hand, while assuring them on the other that, if they really didn’t like the idea, they need not worry that he would try to force them. Indeed, the closest Kemp has come to a coercive gesture in this direction came in his recent, rather hollow warning to the hardcore football crowd that putting on a season this fall will be a “tall task” unless they back off their wholesale commitment to hard partying every night, sans masks or social distancing.

The Guv’s uncharacteristically high-minded rationale that “we shouldn’t need a mask mandate for people to do the right thing” begs the question of why such a mandate isn’t in order once it’s painfully obvious that a big chunk of those people are clearly not doing the right thing and have no intention of doing so until they are either compelled to or someone very close to them gets extremely sick, or God forbid, dies. FWIW, the O.B. wouldn’t place the odds of a change of heart at 100 percent, even then. 

Although the cast of offenders in this category is not devoid of people in their 30s and beyond, there is not much doubt about the age range of those most directly culpable in the recent spike in infections here and in other college towns especially. Local officials did this city and its permanent inhabitants a singular good turn way back in mid-March when, recognizing that returning spring-breakers with no classes to attend were simply looking to move their hellacious coastal rampage inland, they moved quickly to shutter the bars before things got completely out of hand. Gov. Kemp issued a statewide decree to that effect a few weeks later, although some of the ramifications of his consequences-be-damned haste to reopen them as of June 1 are readily apparent in tallies showing that more than half of all the confirmed cases in Georgia have been recorded since that date.

It really saddens the Ol’ Bloviator to say it, but few who have spent much time teaching college undergraduates in the last 20 years should be terribly surprised by the almost defiantly irresponsible, selfish, self-indulgent student behavior we have witnessed hereabouts, in recent weeks especially. The O.B. doesn’t think it will quite do, however, to point a finger at them without unloosing a solid blast of unshirted hell at the parents who not only countenance this kind of activity, but finance it as well.

So here’s the deal. You may see your kids and their friends as every bit as bullet-proof from the virus as they obviously see themselves, but reassuring yourself that what they’re doing is really OK—no harm, no foul, so long as they steer clear of their grandparents—just doesn’t cut it. On a daily basis, they are in close proximity with folks who are not fortunate enough to be in their advantageous demographic, either as to age or financial status. Be they a clerk, cashier, a custodian, a food-server or a salesperson, none of them have the luxury of self-quarantining to prevent exposure or have the bank balance to survive without their paychecks while they are out of work and struggling to recover from COVID-19. Even if their noses never drip or their heads never hurt, every young person who is infected is capable of spreading a terrifyingly contagious, potentially deadly, or at least permanently impairing disease. Now they are also required to mask up off campus, too. Many of you parents who profess to love Athens and the University of Georgia so much have been  picking up the tab for behavior that stands to seriously jeopardize the well-being of both, now and in the future, as well. If Kemp can bring himself to make them wear masks while they’re on the campus, it’s hard to see why you can’t demand that they conduct themselves a little more responsibly when they’re not.