Mask Mandate Confusion: A Case of COVID Brain? 

Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23

Opinions Editor

Photo courtesy of Kaliabakos
Screenshot from Webinar “Covid-19, What Comes Next: A Q&A with Dr. Robin Ingalls M.D. ’85”

On Feb. 21, 2022, the COVID Core Team sent an email to the College of the Holy Cross community announcing that “starting Monday, Feb. 28, masking will be optional on campus.” Although masks were to be required in some places on campus, such as Health Services or Holy Cross transportation, on the whole this seemed to be a huge move in the direction of normalcy. This action also was backed up by a lot of evidence as stated in the aforementioned email: “This decision is based on a number of factors and is made in accordance with the advice of our medical advisor. More than 90% of our community is fully vaccinated and boosted. Campus case numbers have remained low since students returned. Data from the city of Worcester, including cases, hospitalizations and ICU use, show steady declines. The amount of COVID detected in Massachusetts wastewater has been decreasing.” Granted, masks weren’t going to disappear, since, as I mentioned, they were still required in certain spaces, and professors could also decide whether or not to enforce masking in their classrooms, which is not a problem at all. However I, along with nearly everyone I know on campus, was very happy with this decision. Masks are a symbol of the pandemic, which has warped our educational experience beyond belief for the past two years. Being able to not have to wear them in most areas on campus would be liberating and relieving.

Just three days later, on Feb. 24, we received another email: “Unfortunately, since making this announcement, factors have changed–we have experienced a sustained spike in our positivity rate due to two student clusters, one where a policy was violated… As a result, we will not move to mask optional on Monday, but will maintain our current policy for now.” This email was not only disappointing, but it was also concerning. What if the mask mandate had already been repealed? It’s one thing if it hadn’t been removed yet, but, if there were to be a spike in cases after a hypothetical maskless Feb. 28, what then? Would the COVID Core Team enforce masking again, or let the science play out? The city of Worcester got rid of its mask mandate a month ago. Even in New York City, where I live, mask-wearers are as scarce as streets without litter. This is because vaccination and natural immunity rates are getting higher while rates of COVID-19 infection are getting lower. I am struggling to see how the COVID Core Team can justify not removing the mask mandate based on pure scientific evidence. 

I have written about COVID and masks in the past and am by no means suggesting that nobody should ever be wearing masks or that there is no benefit to wearing one. However, seeing that we are past the two-year mark in this pandemic, our community is over 90% fully vaccinated, and a large number of students, faculty, and staff have contracted COVID-19 and should have some form of natural immunity, reinstituting the mask mandate indefinitely after three days of hope for change on campus is absurd and foolish. This flip-flop has made students unsure of the authority and knowledge of those on the COVID Core Team. What do they know about the life of a college student during a pandemic? Why is it optional to wear a mask in residence halls that are crowded with students but not in the library, when you could be sitting alone at a table with no one near you? Or when you are walking alone down a hallway and are reprimanded by a teacher tucked away in the safety of their office to pull up your mask? A relatively small jump in cases that was probably caused by people participating in on or off-campus get-togethers (not classrooms) is not nearly a strong enough reason to delay the removal of the mask mandate. Additionally, why is there no student representative on the COVID Core Team? Significant decisions that impact our lives are made by a group of people who do not experience them. I think that it would be beneficial to have 2-3 students volunteer to be on the COVID Core Team in order to give their input from a different perspective. I hope that the COVID Core Team reevaluates their decision and goes through with removing the mask mandate at Holy Cross. 

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