How will blue America live with COVID?

As we saw after Sept. 11, certain forms of security theater, once established, become extremely difficult to dislodge as long as there is still any arguable threat. So as long as Covid stays in the news, it’s not hard to envision masking requirements for airplanes and trains persisting far into the future, much as we still try to foil Al Qaeda by taking off our shoes for airport security lines. It’s also possible to imagine a future in which the weird emergent norm of “masks for the help but not the V.I.P.s” — visible everywhere from the Met Gala to political fund-raisers to posh hotels — becomes an expected feature of life among the blue-state upper class (as well as a potent symbol for its critics).

Then there are blue-state elementary schools, where some of the constituencies that support mask requirements may not be assuaged even after vaccines are available for younger kids. At that point, according to both polls and personal experience, there will still be lots of vaccine hesitancy among even liberal parents — and you could imagine a coalition of more Covid-fearing parents and teachers’ unions demanding masking requirements until a school hits a vaccination threshold that remains perpetually out of reach…

Especially since the culture of deep-blue America is caught up in the same toxic feedback loops of polarization as deep-red America. If certain forms of Republican insouciance about Covid are forged in the fires of cultural resentment, in which you reject Faucian micromanagement by ditching masks and refusing the vaccine, certain forms of liberal overregulation seem forged in fear of red American contagion — in which we just have to mask our kids indefinitely, even though many other developed countries aren’t doing it, because we need to set an example of seriousness to shame all those red-state anti-maskers.