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Pandemic culture war

| Tuesday, October 26, 2021

I have noticed that in the past couple of months everyone around me seems to speak of the pandemic in the past tense. This is particularly true within the Notre Dame bubble. We’ve all been ecstatic at the idea of a normal semester. But we seem to forget that this situation does not mirror itself across the country and much less across the world. 

More than half the world remains unvaccinated, so the coronavirus has plenty of opportunity ahead of it. Furthermore, it is the nature of viruses to mutate — every time they copy themselves inside an infected person, there’s a chance to make a mistake with the genetic code. A mistake that helps a virus survive and spread.

“We’ve seen a stage of rapid evolution for the virus,” said Dr. Adam Lauring, a virus and infectious disease expert at the University of Michigan. “It’s been harvesting the low-hanging fruit.”

This pandemic has always been a collective issue; in my eyes at least, we all have a duty to make our communities safer and to minimize transmission rates in any way we can. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t really think twice about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. However, recent debates over vaccine mandates have served as a reminder that coronavirus precautions remain highly politicized and pose an operational predicament for some businesses.

I currently have the amazing opportunity to spend the semester in the Bay Area as part of Notre Dame’s Silicon Valley Semester. Here in San Francisco, a countywide mandate has been in place since late August.  The mandate requires residents to show proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19 to enter gyms, restaurants, bars and other indoor venues. 

“Vaccines remain our best tool to fight this disease and come out of the pandemic,” said the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “Vaccination is particularly important in a public indoor setting where groups of people are gathering and removing their masks, factors that make it easier for the virus to spread. That is why San Francisco requires proof of vaccination for indoor dining.”

Despite a high rate of compliance from private business in the Bay Area, some have tried to fight the mandate and have fueled what many call a “pandemic culture war.”

In fact, In-N-Out would rather let health inspectors close its prime and only location in San Francisco than make customers show picture ID and proof of COVID-19 vaccination to dine indoors. “As a company, In-N-Out Burger strongly believes in the highest form of customer service and to us that means serving all customers who visit us and making all customers feel welcome,” said Arnie Wensinger, the chain’s chief legal and business officer. “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government.”

In-N-Out’s refusal to mandate indoor masks and the subsequent closure of some of its locations by San Francisco health officials last week has set off a flurry of debates on social media platforms like Twitter. In-N-Out was praised for “protecting freedoms” and “actually having principles.” “I’ll take a double-double with a side of freedom” tweeted @clintpowell. Republicans praised an In-N-Out spokesperson for calling San Francisco’s COVID-19 restrictions “unreasonable” and “invasive” and for refusing to be the “vaccination police.”

Let me tell you one thing: After 10 minutes of scrolling through the tweets, I was doubled over in laughter rubbing my stomach. This seemed like a whole lot of BS to me. 

Jokes aside, this disaccord and disconnect between those who choose to be vaccinated and those who choose not to could easily and quickly escalate into a pandemic culture war. Unresolved, these confrontations seriously threaten to undo years of workplace culture improvement efforts. These rising debates over vaccinations will multiply conflicts between business, customers and health departments and eventually exacerbate cultural polarization. 

Kearney makes an important point in their most recent statement; “As with any conflict, culture wars strip away the superficial civilities and conventions we create to indemnify ourselves from direct confrontation. But, the rules of engagement we’ve learned from COVID threaten to outlive the disease itself. Leaders can’t afford to let workplaces collapse into collections of ‘us and them’ factions.” 

When the world is facing a pandemic that has affected and will keep affecting every single one of us, you can’t just sit on the sidelines. If there is any remote chance that I could be making this situation worse, more dangerous even, to people around me, how can I just sit idle and turn down a way to truly go back to normal? 

I don’t know about you, but I have definitely felt safer knowing that all the diners around me were also vaccinated. I was more at ease and definitely more comfortable taking my mask off to eat or enjoy other indoor activities. As Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s health director, said “COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future and vaccinations will be key to keeping the city open. The vaccines are our armor. They are our life jackets, our parachutes. They are our way out of his pandemic.”

Krista Akiki is a junior living in McGlinn Hall, majoring in business analytics and minoring in computing and digital technologies. She grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and moved back to the U.S. to pursue her undergraduate degree. She loves learning new languages, traveling and of course trying new foods. She craves adventure and new experiences and hopes to share these with readers through her writing. She can be reached at [email protected] or @kristalourdesakiki via Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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