Maggie Klaers

PCP: Mask mandate

Park lifted its mask mandate March 8, prompting discussion on its health, safety and social impacts

March 23, 2022

Mask mandate needed as precaution for possible COVID-19 outbreak

Masking at Park became optional March 8 following a meeting in which the School Board voted to lift the mask mandate. It’s admirable how great of a leap towards being ‘back to normal’ the school has tried to achieve, but no matter how sick of wearing masks I am, this Band-Aid has been ripped off too soon.

COVID-19 has been ruling our lives since early 2020, and there’s been a constant stream of new guidelines and rules ever since. After so much freedom seemingly stripped from us, these rules can start to blend together and end up feeling completely useless at times. But even if a seemingly arbitrary guideline initially appears useless – yet after time it lowers infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths – it’s critical that we follow these rules.

Masking is one such rule that has proven crucial to keeping COVID-19 infection rates down, so why is the school removing the mandate? Since such a large amount of the school’s population has been vaccinated or has antibodies, many are at very low risk for even catching the virus. With the conjunction of Omicron being the mildest and most widespread variant at the moment, the general population’s risk of getting sick or dying is extremely low.

The other side of the coin, however, shows a different story. Many families with high-risk individuals may still rely on masks to keep their family safe. Students in these kinds of situations have no choice but to wear a mask or switch to online school. Remote learning has proven its incapability of providing a worthwhile learning experience while also removing the social aspect of school, so that should be off the table of reason. Wearing a mask, then, is the only recourse for such situations. In the bubble of high school that allows for students to influence their classmates in large ways, removing the mask mandate can find students separating each other into the categories of those with and those without masks. Not only students with high-risk families, but many who are anxious to remove their masks or are used to wearing them may be ridiculed or mistreated by classmates just because of their choice to err on the side of caution and wear a mask.

Another reason continuing to mask may be the smarter choice in the long run is that, no matter how confident we are right now that there’s no real risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in school, even the smallest misjudgment on the school’s part towards safety could very well lead to another outbreak of Delta — or some potentially worse variant. The most worrying part about the school’s handling of the new ruling is the fact that it seems even they aren’t confident with its safety. Despite the feeling of freedom with the new guidelines, many failed to notice the school removing all the contact-tracing QR codes from lunch tables. Students scanned the QR codes at lunch to place them at a seat in the lunchroom as the school’s most comprehensive form of contact tracing. Without any way to reliably track COVID-19 exposures at school, I see it as Park making an attempt at taking eyes off of the school’s negligence to keep the community safe. This may show Park’s overall reluctance to take accountability for whatever downsides might come with discarding the mask mandate.

The mask mandate lifting is a great stride towards bringing life back to how it was before COVID-19 – inspiring many of what might come in the near future once the pandemic is a nonissue. However, ignoring all the reasons why masks are meant to be worn may cause the school to create a larger problem now than there was in the first place. For these reasons, Park shouldn’t have removed the mask mandate and just retained the same safe and lasting solution we used for the last two years.

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Mask mandate appropriately lifted due to low infection rates

For the past two years, the pandemic has forced people have been more affected than others – but everyone has worn masks. As the number of COVID-19 infections dropped sharply, some mask mandates have started to be lifted. The CDC relaxed their restrictions, Hennepin County lowered theirs and at Park’s school board meeting March 8 they voted against a mask mandate.

Concerns have arisen about the legitimacy and safety of these mandates. Many have asked “Why can we suddenly stop wearing masks now?” or, “is it really safe to not wear masks anymore?” In reality, now that COVID-19 cases have dropped, it’s relatively fine to not constantly be wearing masks anymore.

COVID-19 cases in mid-January of this year were at an all-time high at just over 1 million in the U.S. per day. Now, there’s just about 7,000, and rapidly dropping each day. With this in mind, it makes sense that we can start lifting our restrictions.

In Minnesota, just about 70% of the population is fully vaccinated. The vaccine prevents hospitalization from COVID-19, and the spreading of it as well. This again supports the argument against masks, implying most people are already vaccinated, lowering the need for masks.

At Park, the community and social aspects are a big part of the school. Having face-to-face conversations and activities is very important for friendships and gatherings. Masks have bolstered the social aspects of school and made it harder to communicate well and have meaningful conversations.

The School Board is in the right here by removing the mandate. COVID-19 cases are going down, the CDC lifted their restrictions and most people are vaccinated. So, it only makes sense for the school to change the mandate to make mask use optional.

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