On Feb. 14, we all received news that the mask mandate on campus was being lifted, effective immediately. For the first time since 2020, students and faculty would have the option to attend classes with or without masks at their own discretion.
President Trainor cited the recent lifting of the mask mandate in Maryland public schools and Mount St. Mary’s 89% vaccination rate as factors in this decision. Classes on Monday were the first in nearly two years where participants could meet in-person and see each other’s faces. For many this past Monday marked an important step in the University’s return to normalcy. For others, it was a troubling step taken too early.
Just from observing classes on campus, it is clear that there is no consensus on whether to continue wearing masks. In some rooms, almost all the students are happily without masks; in others many of the students have chosen to continue wearing masks. In most, though, there is a roughly even divide on the issue.
Wearing the mask is now a personal choice that people can make at their own discretion. The problem is that the effects of wearing or not wearing a mask go far beyond the individual.
According to the CDC, medical masks prevent the spread of infection from the individual wearing the mask to others. The individual choosing to wear the mask is not as protected. Instead, it is those around them who benefit. Those who may wish to continue to be protected by wearing a mask are in a tough position. With the mandate being lifted and many students going maskless, the results will not be the same. Each individual does not really get to choose their level of protection because if even one person in a class chooses not to wear a mask, then everyone else’s choice to wear a mask matters less.
When the mask mandate was lifted, I was unsure what to do. I went back and forth on the topic just throughout that day. Over the course of this week the answer has not become any clearer. I, like most of the school’s student body, am vaccinated. Theoretically, I should be safe if I am exposed. That would make me less likely to act as a vector for the disease. However, if I am sick and do not realize it, I might still be able to spread it to others. The last thing that I would want is to spread the virus to someone.
No one really knows what the consequences of lifting the mask mandate will be. We can all hope that this is truly a step forward in the return to normalcy. With that being said, I believe there are many valid reasons for students and faculty to be worried. We still have only educated guesses on whether this will be safe. As we have been since day one of the pandemic, we are in the dark.