Two-Sided Opinion: Weighing the options of lifting the mask mandate
October 25, 2021
In this side-by-side opinion piece, opinion editor Genevieve Morrison and copy editor Delia Caulfield discuss if lifting the mask mandate in schools is appropriate.
In schools with high COVID-19 vaccination rates, masks mandates may be lifted
The decision to keep the mask mandate in schools has been a controversial topic within our country and community. On one hand, health agencies have proved masks effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 over the past year and a half. However, it’s difficult to remember that masks weren’t normal until the outbreak of the pandemic. This is problematic. Our society has grown accustomed to the security that masks provide us, and we haven’t stopped to recognize that our world is nowhere near normal.
When COVID-19 infections and deaths were at an all-time high, I was completely in favor of maintaining the mask mandate in schools. However, now that 69% of Massachusetts residents and an overwhelming 97% of Wayland High School students are fully vaccinated, I am not opposed to the possibility of lifting the mandate as long as we take the correct precautions.
Yes, masks are effectively preventing the spread of coronavirus in schools, especially before people received the vaccine. However, when all is said and done, we need to get our lives back on track. The pandemic has completely taken over our social norms and altered how we act in society. So, instead of constantly living in fear and caution, why are we not trying to get our world back to normal?
Although masks conceal one’s lower face, we’ve unconsciously created new habits that prevent socialization. From a social standpoint, there is a stigma surrounding mask-wearing, even if you’re vaccinated. Currently, Wayland does not have a mask mandate implemented in places such as supermarkets and stores. However, I’ve observed that many people are still hesitant to pull down their masks. This is true for me as well, as I’ve experienced discomfort entering a store and being the only person without a mask. As a result, I’ve retracted and worn a mask so that I wouldn’t stand out, even though I have been fully vaccinated for six months. These emotions are more common than we may imagine, especially among high school students. So, if all vaccinated people feel pressure conforming to these standards, then how will we ever move forward?
Additionally, the irony surrounding the beliefs of mask-wearing is unbelievable. Many people who are fully vaccinated continue to wear masks, whereas those who haven’t received the vaccine are some of the people who are most eager to lift the mask mandate. To me, this thinking is hypocritical. To return to a maskless world, everyone must start thinking logically. It’s plain and simple: if you don’t want to wear a mask, get vaccinated. In addition, those who have received the vaccine need to start recognizing that they are nearly protected against the virus. According to the CDC, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95% effective in preventing infection.
Additionally, every Wayland High School student is above the age of 12, making them eligible to receive the vaccine. At schools with younger students, such as the middle school and elementary schools, the mask mandate may take a bit longer to resolve. However, the majority of high school students are immunized against the virus, which shows immense promise in regards to the future of masks.
The mask mandate has been a prevalent topic among students, parents, administrators and politicians. In the past year and a half, the divide between the Democratic and Republican Parties in regards to mask mandates has been inevitable. Typically, the ones in favor of mask mandates have been Democrats, whereas the Republican party seems to lean more towards lifting the mandates.
Additionally, more Democrats have been pushing for mass vaccinations than Republicans. To preface, this isn’t the case for every individual politician. However, the split between the two parties on this issue is significant. Despite these political differences that are inevitably associated with mask-wearing, this issue must not be politicized. According to the CDC’s COVID-19 statistics, unvaccinated people are 6.1% more likely to test positive for the virus and 11.3% more likely to die from it. These are facts, so why are so many ignoring them to follow the ideas preached by a certain political party? Remember, masks don’t dictate your political beliefs, and they are only mandated to protect you when you’re not immunized.
It’s very possible that lifting the mask mandate in schools could entail stricter measures to track the spread of coronavirus, such as required testing at school. However, I would get tested every day if it meant that I could see my peers’ faces in class for the first time in over a year. Additionally, testing can be beneficial regardless of the presence of masks. It would allow students to feel comfortable before and after they’ve removed their masks at school.
Even if the mandate is lifted, there is no pressure for individuals to suddenly go unmasked. This is a common misconception surrounding those who are vaccinated and are still very cautious about the presence of the virus. It’s important to keep in mind that if the mandate is lifted and you still feel uncomfortable going maskless, that’s completely okay.
I understand the hesitancy, as I am still anxious about COVID-19. It’s as simple as this: If you’re vaccinated, staying safe and feel comfortable not wearing a mask, then you shouldn’t have to wear one. We can’t continue to live in fear if we’re being safe. So, for everyone out there who wishes to live in a maskless world again, remember that you are only two shots away from helping to restore our normal society.
Masks are necessary in schools to reduce the spread of COVID-19
Masks have been both a blessing and a burden. They protect both the wearer and those around them from infection. Face coverings have proven an effective tool in reducing the spread of the virus, but is it time to give them up?
Removing masks would increase the risk of COVID-19. The pandemic continues, whether we acknowledge it or not. Many people, including myself, have become laxer about coronavirus in recent months, optimistically believing that it faded away with the introduction of the vaccine. The harsh truth is that we are sorely mistaken. Currently, coronavirus cases are relatively high in Massachusetts, with almost double the amount of hospitalized cases than in June.
Additionally, the Delta variant introduced a whole new factor into the pandemic. It’s more contagious, can cause more severe illness and can spread through vaccinated individuals. Vaccines, one of the very few weapons we have to combat this disease, are proving ineffective in the face of the new strain.
Masks don’t just help with COVID-19, though. Last year, when masks were universally mandated, the flu was almost completely eradicated. There were just 1,316 positive cases, compared to the 2019-2020 flu season, where there were 34 million cases and more than 20,000 deaths. This unintended consequence could save thousands of lives. Even if we rule out the extreme life-threatening diseases, masks can keep us safe from things like strep throat and the common cold. These are illnesses that are inconvenient at worst, but still good to avoid.
While lifting the mask mandate seems like an act of liberation, in reality, it would only bring more issues. Without the security of masks, school administration would be forced to compensate. Things like mandated pool testing for extracurriculars would return and perhaps even expand to a requirement for attending school, which, frankly, would be a hassle. There are always long lines and a rush to get tested before the designated time frame is over. Mandatory pool testing also raises the stakes. If you miss the window to get tested, you would not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities or maybe even permitted to attend school.
Conversely, administration may very well do nothing to accommodate for lifting the mask mandate. However, this will likely lead to less freedom, not more. If there is a widespread COVID-19 outbreak as a result of loosened restrictions, in-person school may be shut down altogether, causing a return to virtual learning: a change which I can safely assume that no one wants.
Of course, the vast majority of WHS students are immunized against the virus. At the same time, some are not, and even cannot be so. Medical exceptions, religion and political beliefs are all factors that could prevent a student from inoculation. However, these people make up an extremely small, almost negligible, percentage of students.
The same cannot be said for our community at large. Despite our high vaccination rate, Wayland is not immune to populations like children under 12, those with weakened immune systems, allergies, or maybe even an anti-vaxxer here or there. High school students may not make up these populations, but they are undoubtedly rubbing shoulders with them. Whether it’s a friend, parent, coworker or sibling, we should take responsibility for protecting these groups from the virus.
Wearing masks in school is not ideal, annoying even. However, it’s important to put aside our personal preferences in the face of this deadly pandemic that continues to ravage our country.
Ignoring the virus doesn’t make it go away.