by Kylie Chen (’24) | March 21, 2022
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the debate over mask-wearing has been heavily politicized, and unfortunately so. Instead of focusing on mask-wearing as a way of promoting public health, many Americans saw (and still see) mask-wearing as a threat to personal freedom—a viewpoint that has been exploited by politicians to fuel further tension between political parties. Even over two years into the pandemic, mask-wearing is still a point of contention.
As we enter into our twenty-seventh month of the pandemic, more and more states and school districts have started lifting the indoor mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, with California being one of the most recent states to do so. On March 9, Saint Francis announced that students and educators will no longer be required to wear masks inside. However, this announcement aligns with the arrival of a new subvariant of the Omicron variant, BA.2, which is beginning to spread throughout the country. Studies show that BA.2 is much more contagious than the Omicron subvariant BA.1, which initially infected people around the world. In an interview with Medical News Today, Dr. Frederik Plesner Lyngse, a researcher at Copenhagen University, said, “All individuals are more susceptible to BA.2 compared to BA.1, unconditional on their vaccination, previous infection status [or both].” Many countries are currently experiencing rapid surges of the new subvariant. While cases in the United States remain low, experts expect those numbers to rise.
Despite the risk of BA.2, many people support the lifting of mask mandates in efforts to regain some semblance of the pre-COVID “normalcy.” People have grown apathetic to the idea of the coronavirus, and as a result, are more willing to take more risks. According to a poll from market research company Ipsos, “risk perceptions of activities like gathering in person with friends and family or dining in at a restaurant have dropped significantly since early February.” People don’t want to deal with the pandemic any longer, and understandably so. The pandemic has created an isolated environment, and humans are social creatures— limiting social contact for over two years has been difficult.
Personally, I still feel a sense of anxiety and unease whenever I am outside of my house without a mask on—as do many others. I live with an ICU physician and an immuno-compromised person, neither of whom cannot afford to get sick. And frankly, I do not want to be the person to bring COVID home to my family. So, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to mask, both inside and outside. Additionally, mask-wearing seems to be helpful in preventing the spread of other respiratory viruses. In the past couple years, the worst I have experienced was a mild cold. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs this up: according to their 2020-2021 flu season summary, flu activity was “unusually low” this past season, with dramatically fewer infections, hospitalizations, and deaths compared to past seasons. The CDC associates these record low numbers with the precautions we have taken against coronavirus, masking being the main one.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether or not you want to wear a mask. While I understand the desire to get back to “normal,” I think it is important to remember that not everyone is ready to take the step toward unmasking, whether it be for their own health concerns, or those of their loved ones. We should respect that choice. And who knows? Maybe the thought of avoiding catching coronavirus, along with the flu and common colds, will make mask-wearing a common practice even once the pandemic is over and there are no more mask mandates.