Drawbacks to removing school mask mandates

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Adrian Chen

TOO SOON TO GO MASKLESS: Senior Abby Sepulveda reaches for a mask to wear indoors in accordance with the school mask mandate.

Rhea Gupta, Staff Writer

Gov. Gavin Newson recently announced that starting March 1, unvaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear masks indoors and after March 11, masks will no longer be required in schools, though still “strongly recommended.” But what does removing the mask mandate really mean for the public’s overall well-being and benefit? 

In theory, lifting the mask mandate at this point in time is an excellent plan for reverting back to normalcy, but based on current COVID vaccination rates, it would not only create an unsafe learning environment in schools but also put the immunocompromised at risk.

Wearing a mask is a small price to pay to ensure physical safety at school. According to California’s COVID-19 data, 62.2% of students in elementary school and 26.6% of students in middle and high school remain unvaccinated. With over half of all elementary school students remaining unvaccinated, children are at a higher risk for catching the virus and spreading it to their families. 

Vaccination rates are nowhere near high enough among the school-age population and new cases are still constantly being reported in IUSD. The number of student and staff cases have declined, but not gone away completely. Without the additional protection of masks through the uplifting of the mask mandate, it is inevitable that cases in our district alone will rise. It would be smarter to implement these new rules once a larger percentage of the school population receives at least both doses of their vaccine and preferably their booster shot.

Though it might be early to lift the mask mandate, the strategy itself is a great step towards normalcy. The mandate still requires the usage of masks in high-risk conditions such as hospitals, thus containing the disease. The Howler’s survey of over 760 students found that even after the mandate is lifted, 60.6% of Northwood students will continue to wear their masks on campus, which is not nearly enough to successfully contain the spread of COVID.

Yes, we have been in the pandemic for two years, and frankly, most people are sick of wearing masks. To the 25.1% of unsure individuals and the 14.3% of those who voiced that they would no longer wear a mask, it is important to note that wearing masks protects not only yourself but especially those who are unable to get vaccinated due to medical reasons. 

The benefit of this mandate was that it provided an option to continue mask wearing for one’s personal safety and for the safety of the community. It is still too early for California to roll out this optimistic plan towards normalcy in schools. Safety should still be our first priority.