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Masks in School: Should We Change the Way We Do Things?

Lana Sheetz wearing a mask
Lana Sheetz wearing a mask

We all remember the dreaded year that was 2020. A lot of things happened that year, but the thing that I want to focus on for this article is the practice of wearing masks. Surprisingly enough, in early 2020, the CDC initially did not recommend using face masks. However in April, they changed their minds and promoted and mandated the public use of face masks. This extended to schools the following year. What that looked like for CCA High School was a mask mandate for everybody, a period of quarantine for people who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and a hybrid schedule where students would attend school in person in the morning or afternoon and participate online for the remainder of the day. Some people attended exclusively online. As mask requirements ebbed and flowed, opinions on masks remained divisive. On  one end of the spectrum, a lot of people felt that wearing masks was necessary to ensure public health and the safety of immunocompromised people. On the other side of the spectrum, people felt that mask mandates were restricting their freedom; and that’s not getting into the conspiracy theories about whether or not COVID-19 was real. 

Fast forward to now, mask mandates in school seem to be a thing of the past. However, sickness is still prevalent, and very few people in this school seem to be taking any action against it with masks. As a personal anecdote, I got sick twice within the span of two weeks, and on the days that I was well enough to go to school but wasn’t quite recovered, I wore a mask to keep others from catching what I had. Also, since I know someone that is immunocompromised, that was another motivator for me to wear a mask. This extended outside of school. When I worked, I wore a mask. I even wore a mask at home when I first got sick with a particularly nasty virus to keep my family members from getting it. 

But enough about me. I sent out a form asking students in our school if they wore masks at all during the school year so far. Not surprisingly, the majority of the responses said they did not wear a mask at all during this school year so far. Only four people out of fifty-one responses answered “yes”. I interviewed three of them asking what their experiences and opinions were on wearing masks.

The first question asked how often they wore masks to school. Ace said they always wear masks to school while Lana and Anonymous said they only wore one when they were sick. When asked why, they all responded along the lines of wanting to protect others from getting sick when they were sick themselves, especially to protect immunocompromised people they know. When asked if they thought more people should wear masks in school, Ace said only during big spikes in sickness, Lana said only if people are sick, and Anonymous said it should be a personal choice, but also believes that it’s important to protect others. 

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I then went a step further and asked if they thought there should be mandates set in place for wearing masks in school, and what that would look like. Ace said that there should only be mandates for public and crowded places like school during a big spike in illness. Lana said there should be mandates for people who are not vaccinated. Anonymous said that the mandates set in place should depend on the severity and type of illness going around. 

Then I asked the interviewees some more personal questions like if wearing a mask has affected their overall health. Ace said that it did, saying that they were sick less often and that it reduced headaches for them. Lana said it kept them safe, presumably from sickness. Anonymous said it didn’t have an effect on their health. I also asked them all if wearing a mask has affected how others in school saw them. Unfortunately, all have answered that it has, from comments like “Covid is over”, to people thinking they’re sick, or even bringing up politics. 

So in conclusion, what have we taken away from this? Those who agree to wear masks also agree that protecting others, especially the immunocompromised, is important, and is often a motivator for wearing masks, if mine and the interviewees’ anecdotes are any indication. It should also be acknowledged that wearing masks can have personal benefits along with keeping others safe, such as not getting sick as much. However, wearing masks can have downsides, which is mostly due to societal opinion. The general opinion on masks is that they’re outdated, that they’re only for the COVID-19 virus, or they’re just another reminder of the pandemic that shook our generation and the world. What is evident by the interview is that those beliefs and opinions extend to people that wear masks for any reason. No matter what your opinion is on masks, no one should be treated differently for what they think or do about masks, no matter what side of the argument they’re on. Everyone’s allowed to have their own opinions on the topic. I know the title of this article asked if we should do things differently about masks. But after hearing these stories, I think the better question is: “should we change the way we see things?”

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