OPINION: New mask guidance has some flaws

Some students choose to still wear masks on campus

JUSTIN WASHINGTON, Evergreen research editor

When I walked out of my room on Monday morning without a mask on, it felt strange. Part of me felt like someone was going to remind me to put one on, and part of me felt like I should have had one with me as I headed to breakfast.

However, as of this writing, most places on campus are not requiring masks to be worn. 

Right off the bat, I knew this was going to cause mixed reactions. Some were going to be happy, while others were going to be upset. It has been that way through removing and reimplementing COVID-19 protocols.

Erin Smith, freshman molecular biology major, said the removal of the mask mandate on campus makes her nervous. 

Because of the recent news about BA.2, a subvariant of the omicron strain, Smith said she is choosing to still wear a mask. 

“It’s a repeating pattern at this point where the mandates get pulled back a little and there’s an increase of infections and hospitalizations,” she said. “I’m just gonna keep on wearing [masks] until I feel comfortable and feel like there’s not a large spike of cases.”

Smith said she worries a mandate could be reinstated in the near future, which will cause anger and potential resistance in those who enjoy going maskless.

Junior sociology major Megan Fotheringham said she is also choosing to still wear a mask at least for another month or two.

“My main purpose for continuing to wear a mask is that I have professors who have health issues, or who have small, unvaccinated children,” Fotheringham said.

Like Smith, Fotheringham said she worries about the return of a mask mandate and said people will potentially be angrier than they would have been if the mask mandate would have remained.

This is probably the first mistake WSU made when removing the mask mandate. I have no doubt they based their decision with public health concerns in mind. I trust they thought this was a safe decision.

However, the communication about a mask mandate returning has been lacking.

Right now, most people are celebrating the end of the mask mandate, with some even going so far as to say the pandemic is over. Not many are under the realization that in a couple of months, we could be back to wearing masks everywhere we go.

Obviously, a lot of people want to push that possibility as far away as they can. Even I am not ready to admit masks not being required is potentially a temporary thing. 

However, this thinking leads people to become careless. Carelessness causes an increase in infection, which leads to a mask mandate being brought back. 

The university should have instilled that sobering message in all of us. Even if the mask mandate never comes back, it is better to be proven wrong and relieved than to live in denial and be disappointed.

Some students are also concerned that the mandate is too relaxed. As of this moment, only public transportation and medical facilities are requiring masks.

There are a lot of areas on campus where a large group of students is cramped. The most common example is large classes with no physical distancing between students.

“It would have been cool to have classes with 150 or greater people still require masks,” Fotheringham said. “Unfortunately, it’s something that’s not on the state government level. But the university itself probably could have been something a little different.”

Smith said large class sizes are a concern because being in an enclosed space for long periods of time without masks increases the risk of infection; the university should have paid attention to that.

I agree the mask guidance should have been observed more closely in classes, especially since some classrooms have inadequate ventilation. At least for a little while longer, some classes should have kept the mandate in effect.

Overall, I think everybody should make the decisions they feel most comfortable with. I personally feel safe not wearing a mask in most settings, but others do not share those same feelings. I hope everybody is respected no matter what they choose.

I trust the university made its decision to remove the mask mandate with everyone’s best interests in mind. 

However, I hope everyone understands that adjustments to the guidance in the coming months are a very likely possibility. Whether or not we are enjoying being able to have our masks off, we should not ignore what may come in the future.