Courtney: My take on the pandemic

We need to do more to ensure truth prevails.


by Zach Courtney

I have yet to write a column devoted to my thoughts on the pandemic. Judging by the opinion sections at the newspapers I regularly read, I am in the minority. For all I know, The Associated Press Stylebook has a rule mandating columnists to write at least one column on the issue. In a clear example of peer pressure (sure, let’s call writers at the Washington Post my peers), I succumbed to the pressure, and decided to give my not-so-hot take on the pandemic.

Let’s face it: Vaccines and masks are both highly controversial and, sadly, politicized. Based on my anecdotal evidence, most people here in the great city of Minneapolis seem to be great at wearing masks and getting the vaccine. Their counterparts in greater Minnesota — where I am from — are not as good at following COVID-19 recommendations. One might even use the word bad.

I have already gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I always wear my mask when I go to public indoor places. I have been pretty careful as to whom I interact with. I do not go to large parties but now have more freedom to see my vaccinated friends in small groups. Many — dare I say everyone — I regularly interact with at the University are on the same page as I am as far as following COVID-19 rules.

That being said, this column is not supposed to be about me patting myself on the back. I do not see myself as better than others for following COVID-19 protocols. Though I do not say it to their faces, when someone I know rants about people that go to large parties, do not wear masks, or will not get the vaccine, I cringe a little. I have never had much of an appetite for people putting themselves on a pedestal, especially not for simply doing the right thing.

“It’s just those dumb Trumpers,” they say. “We’d be over the virus if not for the Republicans,” they say.

Admittedly, I was pretty pissed off that people were recklessly partying over winter break. As we all know, cases and deaths skyrocketed during the holiday season. We even saw a period when more than 3,000 Americans were dying every day due to COVID-19. If you think it is tone-deaf to party in that environment, I would say you are right. Here is the problem: Condescending language is mostly unproductive and only tears our nation further apart.

In general, when people see something as being wrong, I am a fan of fixing problems, not just whining about them. That applies in this situation.

Let me be very clear: People who think masks do not work, or have been recklessly partying throughout the pandemic, are in the wrong. To my fellow mask-wearers and COVID-19 rule-followers: Instead of just criticizing and being condescending towards these people, I challenge you to criticize the systems that allowed for anti-science ideas to thrive.

Here is what I say: Are you gonna whine, or are you going to do something to fix the problem? If my house was burning down, I would not be happy if the firefighters were outside complaining about the fire. Put it out! The same can be said for COVID-19 protocols. Instead of just criticizing people who do not follow COVID-19 protocol, let’s do something to ensure these problems do not continue to occur. We need truth to prevail.

Tucker Carlson may be entertaining, have a good collection of ties, and even raise my blood pressure. That is good if you are simply looking for ratings, but the news is not — or should not, anyway — be about ratings. Journalists have a responsibility to report the truth. Their words are too powerful to do anything less.

As large media corporations have increasingly blurred the line between fact and fiction, local news seems to be on the verge of extinction. This makes it more difficult for the general public to find high-quality, reliable information.

As I come from a teacher’s family, I always bring it back to education. We are not doing a good enough job in middle and high schools of teaching students how to distinguish between good and bad news sources. Schools do a good job of teaching students how to critically read fiction but they need to do a better job of teaching students how to critically read journalism, fact check, research and draw well-educated conclusions. I do not think I am being hyperbolic when I say this: If our education and journalism systems were doing a better job as a whole, I believe that fewer Americans would have died due to COVID-19.

So, that is all for my stance on the pandemic. Wear your mask. Get the vaccine. But before you are too critical of anti-maskers or anti-vaxxers, take a look at our systems and ask: Are we doing enough to ensure that truth prevails?