Where are the Masks?

Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23

Opinions Editor

At the beginning of the semester, the College of the Holy Cross implemented a mask mandate that required students, faculty, and staff to wear a mask indoors. The administration said that this mandate would be in effect until Sept. 10, when test results and statistics would be evaluated in order to decide whether to lift restrictions or not. Even before we reached that date, an email was sent out to the Holy Cross community stating that COVID-19 positive numbers were rapidly rising (undoubtedly the result of several off-campus parties that occurred during the few days after everyone’s return to campus). Needless to say, the mask mandate would continue indefinitely, according to the administration, or at least until cases were under control. Now, it is December, and although cases are mostly stable and the school itself has said, in an email sent out on Sept. 17, that “We also know from our own contact tracing that most cases among our students are originating from off-campus socializing. Visits to bars, restaurants and clubs, along with house parties, are leading to cases on our campus. Other local colleges are noting the same source of spread,” masks are still required indoors, except in dormitories or when eating or drinking. 

I personally don’t have a problem with masking and would probably continue to wear a mask in certain spaces even if we were allowed not to. I have several professors who said at the beginning of the semester that they would still enforce mask wearing in their classrooms even if the mask mandate was lifted, and I respect that decision. COVID-19 poses a real threat to certain people, and everyone has the right to take the measures they see fit to protect themselves and others, whether that’s getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, or social distancing. However, the college did give everyone a false expectation that mandates would be lifted very soon into the semester. This begs the question as to why the college expects the student body to provide themselves with masks, even though the decision to wear them constantly indoors may not have been theirs in the first place. 

I have had several experiences this semester that make me wonder why Holy Cross does not provide all students with masks in every building that requires one. Last semester we received a grand total of one (1) cloth mask, but, if I am not mistaken, no one (that I know of, at least) has received an additional free mask since then, unless they are part of a club that provides them with one. Additionally, in the same Sept. 17 email, the school has actually encouraged students to wear surgical masks rather than cloth ones: “Research has shown that surgical masks provide significantly improved protection over cloth masks. Consider adopting surgical masks as your mask of choice.” 

It is as easy to forget your mask as it is to forget your phone, keys, or wallet these days. It’s not surprising, therefore, that I myself have left my dorm room without a mask in my pocket or on my face. Thankfully, since I know I could be forgetful, I usually have a few extra surgical masks in my backpack in case of emergencies. However, many people I know do not do this, and I have had to give several of my backup masks to friends in need of one, or even strangers. Additionally, I have also heard of students who cross campus to go to class and upon trying to enter the building, they realize they do not have a mask with them. This can happen to absolutely anyone (even professors!), and the fact that a student would probably be penalized for running back to their room to get a mask, ultimately running late to class and missing part of their lesson (or being marked late by their professor) is inexcusable. I think that the college should minimize the effects that the mask mandate may have on an already strenuous situation (the relatively recent return to in-person learning) and provide a disposable mask station at the entrances of every academic building on campus. As of June 30, 2020, the market value of the Holy Cross endowment was $760.3 million. (according to the Holy Cross Investment Office, https://www.holycross.edu/investment-office) Because of the enormity of this endowment, I think that it is not beyond reason to expect that the college could have easily afforded to provide every single student with ample amounts of surgical masks this semester. Simply placing a box of them at the check-in area of Kimball, various classrooms in Stein, or in the entrance of Smith would save so many students time and money that they may not have. This may be a logical plan of action going forward, especially if the college does not plan on lifting the mask mandate during the spring semester.The Mask Policy section of the Holy Cross website states, “At the College of the Holy Cross we are guided by the Ignatian principle of cura personalis, or care for the whole person, and for that reason we take seriously our obligations to ourselves and to one another. In the era of COVID-19 these obligations take on greater significance. Each of us must work to protect the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff in our community.” So, if the administration really does take cura personalis seriously, I must ask them, where are the masks?

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