Is it Really Safe to Unmask in School?

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Tim Peacock / for The New York Times

Evelyn Le, Contributor

As of March 14 the mask mandate for our school has lifted due to the downtrend of Covid-19 cases in the west coast. Governor Gavin Newsom announced that state requirements for masking indoors during school has expired on March 11. Our school has followed these new guidelines and is now giving students a choice starting on March 14, whether they are vaccinated or not. To some parents and students, this new revelation is a triumphant feat, as many families around the country have been protesting the masking protocols in schools, demanding that their students have the right to choose whether to mask up or not. But is unmasking really a good idea, and what do the students of our school think of the new procedure?

What do the students and teachers think?

This survey was conducted by the author of this article and questioned to the students and teachers of our school.

Before March 14, of a total of 48 people were interviewed. 42 said that they would keep their mask on, 4 said that they would take it off, and 2 said that they would sometimes keep their mask on & sometimes not, or are undecided. It was also observed that in about 3 different 7th grade classes consisting of about 30 students each (the classes who were not surveyed), almost everyone kept their mask on, even after the mandate was lifted.

Robotics and coding teacher Mrs. Joyce says that for her, it would be a mix of both. “In the class, if I’m sitting at my desk, teaching from [up] here, I would probably take it off… it would be clearer [for you guys to hear me] with the mask off. But if I feel like I’m walking around the classroom or interacting with you guys… I’ll probably keep it on.”

“I’m double vaccinated and boosted,” Mrs. Harris, the 7th grade English teacher, says. “I really don’t want to wear my mask, but I feel like I will probably wear it, at least for a few more weeks.” She states that she does not want to contract the virus and accidentally bring it home to her family. Both she and Mrs. Joyce want their students to feel comfortable, regardless of being masked up or not.

Teachers like Mr. Kopaczewski agree. “It is totally up to them… now that the mandate has been lessened, it’s okay for you not to wear one. [However,] if you’re going to wear a mask, why are you wearing it if you’re not going to wear it correctly?” Mr K. understands that a mask worn below the nose & mouth are just as vulnerable as an unmasked face, so he tells his students that they can either unmask completely, or correctly wear their masks.

“…Even the state highly recommends people still wear [masks].” Says Mrs. Young, though acknowledging the fact that students now have a choice, she recommends the students still wear them, stating that “…it’s better to be careful.”

Why are we unmasking in the first place?

Thanks to vaccinations and boosters, Covid cases around the country, especially in the area we live, are dropping, and state leaders see this as a sign to start lifting the mask mandate in schools, seeing that there would be no more real need to keep the masks on.

Covid cases around the third week of January peaked to a dangerously all time high, with times like January 10 reporting over 1.4 million new cases in one day in the USA. Thankfully, since then, Covid cases have dropped tremendously, with new cases averaging only under 100,000 cases per day since the last 2 weeks.

What do the professionals say?

The hardest thing about wearing and not wearing a mask is that it not only affects or benefits you, but because it also affects the people around you. For example, if someone wearing a mask were to be standing in a large crowd of unmasked people, then would the mask really be helpful to prevent possibly contracting the virus? What if the roles were reversed, and there was only 1 person maskless and everyone else around them had one on? Would that maskless person get the virus, or would they spread it instead?

It’s still highly recommended that you still wear a mask, whether that’d be because you or others are unvaccinated, or have weakened immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most commonly known as the CDC, continue to advise getting tested regularly and getting vaccinated and/or boosted.

Will we continue to wear masks forever?

Robert Beatty / for NBC News

There are other benefits to wearing face masks that do not have anything to do with Covid. People in Asia have been wearing masks long before the pandemic; cities such as Beijing are so overwhelmingly polluted with smog that people have worn masks to protect themselves from breathing it in. The Japanese wear their masks as a form of courtesy when they are sick so that they do not end up infecting others around them. Motorcyclists in The Philippines deal with a lot of pollution in the air due to being on the road all the time, so the masks serve as a way to deflect all the unhealthy air.

Asia soon won’t be the only continent using masks in the future. Usages of non-renewable sources such as coal and oil will pollute the air around us and make it dangerous for us to breathe it in in large quantities, and that time may not even be a long wait from now. There is also the possibility that there could be another virus outbreak in the future, and maybe we won’t even have to be told to wear masks, because we might already be wearing them on a daily basis for other reasons.

For now, we’ll think about the present: 2022, with the pandemic still going strong, but weakening as people around the country, state, county, and city continue to keep themselves and others from contracting Covid-19 as they receive the vaccine, social distance, and wear their masks. Soon, the risk of Covid will no longer be as significant as today, as long as we know how to keep ourselves and each other safe. If you choose to remove your mask, then also remember that Covid is not 100% gone, and perhaps it never will be. But we can all get what we want as long as we remember to stay away from large gatherings and, if possible, get vaccinated and boosted, for the sake of everyone around you. The outcome for the future will depend on actions today, so although wearing masks is no longer a necessity, what is one is remembering that there are others around you more vulnerable than you are, and the only way to keep everyone safe is to follow guidelines and to remind yourself that some things, like parties and concerts, could possibly wait another day.