The YOLOers vs. Distancers Feud Is Tearing Us Apart

In the past few weeks, many Covid-19 hot spots around the country have seen their case counts surge and then begin to turn back down. The result of these fresh outbreaks is a large and growing cohort of Covid survivors who now have antibodies that grant them some measure of immunity. You'd think a major increase in the number of people who can safely go back into society would be an unalloyed good. From my vantage here in Central Texas, home to one of the largest groups of the newly Covid-immune, I've noticed that all these wonderful antibodies are actually making our existing, pandemic-related social cohesion problems considerably worse.


Jon Stokes (@jonst0kes) is deputy editor of, and is a former WIRED editor and one of the founders of Ars Technica.In short, the antibodies have in some regions produced a class of people who see no further need for any type of precautions and are ready to get back to normal, immediately. These YOLOers, as I call them, are both literally and figuratively over this whole pandemic thing, and they're fast losing patience with the people who aren't.The conflict between the YOLOers and their still-locked-down opposites, the Distancers, grows more rancorous by the day. As unpaid bills pile up, school buildings stay closed, and eviction notices arrive, each side blames the other for the rapidly spreading catastrophe.
Magnifying the problem is the way that social distancing is inscribing a quasi-geographical separation onto this ideological separation. YOLOers and Distancers aren’t merely fellow citizens with different views about how society should respond to this moment. No, these two tribes are so physically isolated from one another by the pandemic that they may as well live in distinct parts of the country. The online “filter bubble” has moved into the offline world, and the resulting fragmentation is threatening to tear our country apart.

Origins of the Split

While this "happily immune" vs. "unhappily still distancing" tension is new, the actual split it's exacerbating has been with us since the start of the lockdowns. The Covid-immune are just the latest addition to a preexisting, rapidly expanding YOLOer camp that includes a number of distinct subgroups.

“Just the Flu” YOLOers: The original members are the folks who are convinced that the entire world is freaking out over nothing. These people believe we should all just tough it up and let the novel pathogen chips fall where they may. Some are motivated to downplay the virus by red-vs.-blue tribalism and political animus, others simply look at the fatality risk for their own age cohort and decide it's a risk worth taking to return to normal life.

“Deaths of Despair” YOLOers: Then there are the YOLOers who have some inkling that the virus is considerably worse than the flu but who are for whatever reason anti-mask and/or anti-lockdowns. Often they offer up the theory that the lockdown "cure" will ultimately turn out to be deadlier than the disease, due lives cut short by economic hardship.

“My Body, My Choice” YOLOers: Related to and often overlapping with the "deaths of despair" crowd, these are usually people who haven't quite grasped the communicable part of communicable disease and who think controlling a widespread virus outbreak is purely a matter of individual freedom and personal responsibility.

Reluctant YOLOers: Finally, there are those who'd rather be Distancers but who are forced out into the world by work or other obligations, so they fall in with the YOLO camp by default.

Apart from the fact that they're running around YOLOing, these subgroups increasingly have one major thing in common: They're mad at the Distancers.

Your kid's school is going remote-only this fall, putting you in a major bind with regard to child care and work? Blame the Distancers.

Your business is tanking because the customers are all shut into their homes, spending money on Amazon while you barrel toward financial ruin? It's clearly the Distancers' fault.Forced to miss the funeral of a loved one or to tune in to online-only mass because your local church is considered "nonessential" and forbidden from opening? Those Distancer hypocrites are keeping you from exercising your rights, even as they no doubt cheer the Black Lives Matter protests and consider casinos and liquor stores "essential" enough to remain open.