The complexities of pandemic life continue to fascinate.

Since MU students hit town last month, the graph on local COVID-19 positive rates has turned into a hockey stick. Public policy leaders track these rates to determine potential renewed shutdowns community-wide.

Columbia Public Schools previously locked into these metrics to determine if in-person classes would be allowed for its students. So since college students came back, the local public primary and secondary schools are largely closed completely.

Many people are concerned about college students testing positive and have pointed to the problem of parties. It is the observation of some that since the Columbia City Council restricted bars and restaurants hours, the parties have just oozed out elsewhere.

It’s not moralistic teetotalers out to bust vice, nor is it, as in the George Jones country music classic “White Lighting:” with “the G-men, T-men, Revenuers, too, searching for the place, for the place where he made his brew.” Rather, it’s altruistic public health advocates, who are not going after the booze being guzzled but the germs being exchanged.

This is like a bizarro Prohibition era, with impromptu speak-easies popping up around town and a posse of mask vigilantes hot on their trail.

This informal confederation of pandemic behavior hall monitors roam the streets and social media, searching for the likes of college women walking too close together downtown, sans-mask. A Facebook friend posts surveillance snapshots of revelers at downtown establishments, with shaming remarks about such ilk who breathe and lick on each other and maybe even smoke.

UM System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi is reported to run lookout around campus on a scooter. MU says it will sanction students for noncompliant pandemic behavior, even if conducted off campus; while civil liberties are out the window, tattling is in.

Locally we see a snitch culture arisen, where often-anonymous voyeurs rat out local businesses that are seen not masking up adequately. Nationally, even Nancy Pelosi got busted for the crime of hypocrisy in a San Francisco hair saloon — how petty can this get?

Yes, this community, like many others, has declared required enhanced hygienic regime — we all know 2020’s new jargon. So it is lawful and ethical to mask up and such, but is this friendly enforcement?

In passing the local ordinances some months ago, including rules about having guests in one’s own home, I read in the Missourian that Mayor Treece indicated we aren’t sending a goon squad around to actively enforce this stuff but that having a law in place is useful in communicating cultural values and acts as a glorified suggestion.

Last Friday’s Missourian had a very enlightening article about the psychological, sociological and even political aspects of mask-wearing. How, in some ways, a mask is more than just a mask — when it can communicate compliance, group identity and a feeling of safety to some and feelings of defeat to others.

My folks and I ventured over to Boonville on Labor Day. Unlike Columbia, we observed about 5% mask-wearing in the riverside town. A couple shops had no signs about masks, table spacing was unaltered and nobody we noticed seem concerned whatsoever.

Last week I ran into an acquaintance who lives in Boonville. They largely wear a mask while in Columbia but is visibly not keen on it. As I shared the mask observation of their town, their eyes lit up and while shrugging down a bit replied in a loud whisper, “Yeah, isn’t it great?!”

Another acquaintance shared about a recent visit to a small town in northern Missouri. While the local cafe regulars might be few, the coffee klatch still all huddles at one table in the back. The community center/park had a shindig, with zero masks anywhere. The visiting Columbian gladly behaved as “when in Rome...,” reflecting that if somebody did dare walk in there with a mask, they would surely be stared at like they were from the moon and likely heckled down into the collective’s unmasked compliance.

Back in Columbia, on the MKT trail, I regularly observe maybe 10% mask usage, a good half of which are senior citizens. At the Twin Lakes Dog Park last Sunday, it was about the same — I only recall one elderly couple masked up. The playground outside Russell School on Sunday was zero, while what appeared to be a church service of African immigrants in the Kiwanis Park pavilion was about 90%.

Just when we might think pandemic behavior has brought a new conformity, move a little further down the road, and you’re in a different world.

About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

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