I think this is great, and as a result feel like I can attend in person again. The 2020 and 2021 PyCon US editions were virtual and I didn’t really get into them, followed by 2022 and 2023 in Salt Lake City, UT, when traveling and conferences didn’t quite feel safe enough. I last attended PyCon US all the way back in 2019, and recently enjoyed the excellently safe North Bay Python 2023 and PyBay 2023, so I’m excited about these safety measures. But, not everyone seems to be, including some rather prominent voices in the Python community: Python Bytes episodes 359 (4:07–9:40) and 360 (32:30–34:12). Disappointing, but perhaps predictable.
This is a simple fact, and isn’t affected by the also true fact that we wish it were. Two things can be true at once.
If you think “oh, it’s just like the flu now”, you’re quite wrong:
I dedicate this post to everyone who keeps saying, “COVID is just the flu now.”
In the most recent complete report weeks:
#COVID19 hospitalizations: 15,756
#Flu hospitalizations: 1,607
COVID deaths: 1,262
Flu deaths: 14
Most COVID deaths in a week THIS YEAR: 3,866
Most flu deaths in a week SINCE 2019: 1,048
Yep, exactly the same!
You don’t have to like it. I certainly don’t.
The Python community prides itself on being inclusive. In my years of increasing involvement I’ve seen it continually evolve to welcome more and more people into its world.
One of the PyCons I attended was the first event where I displayed my pronouns (he/him) on my badge and saw others doing the same. North Bay Python has badge lanyards communicating whether the wearer is comfortable having their photo taken. The Python Software Foundation leadership, staff, and board strive for both visible and invisible diversity. These are just some of the ways I’ve observed this priority manifest itself, and that’s from the perspective of a cishet white male who’s never been underrepresented.
I don’t recall encountering any significant pushback to these efforts. I’m sure a few folks have grumbled here and there, and people belonging to underrepresented communities have felt said pushback more strongly, but by and large I perceive this community to be forward thinking and open to doing things better over time. It’s a big reason I’m proud to be part of it.
It’s hard for me to formulate a coherent way to express this, because it just seems so damn obvious. Perhaps wheelchair accessibility is a reasonable parallel: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone complaining about ramps placed around venues to enable wheelchair users to access all parts of an event space. Without said ramps, wheelchair users may not be able to participate, and we all agree that’s a bad thing.
Masking is fundamentally the same. Many people are immunocompromised and a COVID-19 infection is far more likely to be deadly or severely damaging to their health than to those of us fortunate enough not to be high risk. The continuously evolving virus may not, on average, be quite as vicious as it was in 2020, but it’s far from harmless. Vaccines and boosters only go so far, and masking—especially indoors, and especially two-way—has proven fantastically effective at reducing transmission. An event requiring masking is making a choice to inconvenience those who don’t care about it in order to enable those who do care to participate at all.
Masking is merely accessibility ramps for those with invisible conditions.
I’ve debated ad nauseam with myself whether to include this section or not, as I fervently stand behind all of the above regardless of my personal situation, but that’s exactly what provided me with some valuable perspective, so here it is.
My wife’s health has taken a significant turn for the worse as a result of a COVID-19 infection in September of 2022, and she’s now unable to work and is an ambulatory wheelchair user. It’s impossible to predict the exact effects of another infection, but concern is the correct attitude.
As her partner, I make choices with her health in mind, so my risk tolerance for viral infections—and particularly COVID-19—is lower than it likely would be otherwise, and I keep encountering more and more people who are in similar situations. I attended NBPy and PyBay this year because they were each organized as a combination of outdoor space and strong masking policies, and it was great to be back in the community face to face. I had plenty of unmasked conversations outside the enclosed spaces, and that very much felt like the pre-pandemic conference experience.
I want as many people in the Python community as possible to have the same opportunity.
Thanks to my lovely wife Katie for providing feedback on drafts of this post.