On or off: is it really just me?

With the MCPS Board of Education now not requiring masks worn in school, many students feel conflicted about whether or not they should continue wearing their masks due to the social stigma revolving around mask-wearing.

After two long years, the topic of masking has become controversial as many choose to mask or not. 

“I walked in and people were looking at me but as the day went by, people started theirs off. There’s definitely a stigma but it slowly fades away. My teacher is immunocompromised and I understand that so I wear my mask in her class. I’m oblivious because I don’t care whether or not people care about masks, I take mine off immediately after my homeroom class,” senior Mu Kannika said. 

Within the WJ community, many feel pressured to continue wearing their masks even if they don’t want to due to the fear of their peers’ view on their decision. While some continue to wear their masks because they feel safer doing so, some may want to take it off but are afraid of being demonized by their peers.

Many students believe that the idea of wearing masks and the stigmatization of masks is a political matter due to the polarization that comes with wearing masks along with other social and political issues. 

It is a common issue at WJ for students to associate certain things with political parties such as masks. Many have the generalization that wearing a mask is a “liberal” concept whereas not wearing one is a “conservitive” concept.

“I think that a lot of the social stigma around masks comes from the pandemic being politicized and the right being the proponents of lifting mask mandates. Since the right takes stands that are deemed racist and homophobic, not wearing a mask is seen as a symbol of standing with the right on issues that are beyond masking. Not wearing a mask doesn’t necessarily make you an anti-masker, some people just want to return to normalcy,” senior Reagan Tyler said.

The choice of making the decision to mask or not results in many students feeling as if they are being peer-pressured by others with social media through posts about “anti-maskers” and pressured to keep their masks on in order to keep others around them safe.

“I definitely feel pressured to continue wearing a mask because I’ve heard some people around me say things like “it shows a lot about people who don’t wear them”. I want things to get back to normal but I know that whether or not I’m wearing a mask is seen as a political stance to many and I don’t wanna represent myself wrong,” freshman Angie Adele said.

 Recently, the CDC had issued new guidelines regarding masks where they declared that most of the US population is safe to drop the masks along with schools. This decision came after the fact that a large population has not become immune because of the vaccine and prior exposure. The CDC’s recommendation to wear masks in school has also been dropped because children are more likely to have asymptomatic or mild infections, according to NPR. 

“Omicron and the worst is over so I believe that we are on the road to normalcy which includes ending mask mandates,” Kannika said.

While some staff and students feel safe taking their masks off outside of school when running errands and feel safe doing so, their decision to mask in school leaves them perplexed because of their surroundings.

While many feel that it is safe to remove their masks, others have the incentive to keep them on because of reasons such as immunocompromised family members, keeping others around them safe, feeling like it is the new normal, etc.

“I choose to keep my mask on because I’ve seen a lot of people without masks before the mandate and it made me uncomfortable but even now, I don’t care if you have your mask off, as long as you’re being cautious around people who are wearing masks because you never know what they’re going through. I personally don’t have anyone who I’m affected by… but I feel like some people may have older family members or immunocompromised [family] and they want to keep them safe,” junior Janaiyah Innis said. 

On the other hand, many have made the decision to keep their masks on because they feel it has now become a part of their identity. Some have also made the decision to keep masking because it helps cover up their insecurities and feel more comfortable remaining hidden. 

“I decided to continue wearing my mask because it covers a lot of my insecurities such as my crooked teeth and some of my acne,” anonymous student said.