To mask or not to mask?

Alexander Lewton

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Photo by Alexander Lewton

Students take care to properly mask in order to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the hallways. The issue of what public health guidelines the county should enforce has caused great debate in recent weeks.

Every student knows that there are a number of essential items they must bring to school every day. This includes pencils, school work, a chromebook and a means of acquiring lunch. However, this school year has seen one more thing being added to that list: a mask.

For much of the pandemic, the push to wear masks in public places has been viewed as one of the primary methods to limit the spread of Covid-19. In order to increase compliance, governments and corporations have enacted mask mandates which require individuals to be masked when out and about. Facing increasing political pressure to move on from the pandemic, however, those mandates are coming to an end.

The Montgomery County indoor mask manded expired at midnight on Feb. 20, with county officials citing decreased transmission rates and the high number of vaccinated individuals in the county as their rationale for ending the health requirement. A Feb. 26 message from MCPS, stated that the BOE will vote on March 8 to determine whether to rescind the mask mandate in MCPS facilities, expressing its belief that the board will vote in favor of the proposition.

After years of following strict rules and regulations, many students are happy about the possibility of seeing these measures rolled back.

“With the [case] numbers low I think we should have the choice to wear a mask or not,” junior Ben Dutko said.

Others believe that conditions have not improved enough to warrant such a major shift in health safety ordinances.

“I think that they’re just trying to create a sense of normalcy, and I understand that and I agree with that, but I think rushing into it is not the best idea because there will be even worse repercussions,” freshman Meley Ghermay said.

While most students acknowledge that the Covid-19 landscape has shifted dramatically from just two months ago, a large number of them see the actions taken by the county to be a little bit too hasty in nature. In a recent survey conducted by The Pitch, 73% of respondents stated that they’d continue to wear a mask after the mandates have been lifted, while 27% said that they would not.

“I think it’s still necessary for us to be wearing the masks until the numbers are low for a substantial period of time and then we can reevaluate. We were at an all time peak in December and the numbers just got down so I don’t think we should be rushing to anything at the moment. Although maybe loosening up some restrictions would be a good idea, completely taking off the masks I don’t think would be the right decision,” senior Alex Fitenko said.

One of the most important factors that is influencing the decision over whether to abandon masks is students’ vaccination status. The Montgomery County Covid-19 Dashboard displays a 2.04% test positivity rate over the 7 day period ending on Sunday, Feb. 27, while 85.2% of residents have received both doses of the vaccine, one of the highest rates in the nation.

“I’m vaccinated, so I personally feel like I’m safe. If other people don’t want to wear a mask that’s fine, but I [wouldn’t] wear mine because I feel like I’m already pretty protected,” Dutko said.

The effects of “pandemic fatigue” have been felt by many students who have become exhausted with keeping up with the latest measures and health advice after two years of cancellations, delays, and stringent requirements.

“I think everybody wants to finally take the masks off and just go back to the way life was before Covid. I think everybody’s feeling a bit Covid fatigued,” Fitenko said.

After a recent BOE meeting, Student Member of the Board Hana O’Looney came under fire online for supporting the continuation of the existing mask mandates. The harsh messages posted on the internet came under widespread condemnation from the other board members and invigorated discussions about maintaining civility while discussing such a controversial topic as masking.

“I would definitely continue to wear a mask, but if other people don’t, I respect the other people’s decisions,” Ghermay said.