The ongoing debate: Optional masks in school

photo credit: Emma Clute and Rachel Lehman

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 was first reported in the United States in January 2020. Since April 2020, people have been required to wear masks, social distance and go in and out of quarantine due to the spread of the virus.

Now, there are vaccines available to help combat the spread of COVID-19, so mask-wearing and social distancing are not as urgent as they were before. However, the CDC states that COVID-19 is still ongoing and, because of that, public spaces such as stores and restaurants have begun to require masks and social distancing again; yet many schools have deemed masks as optional.

“I chose to wear a mask throughout most of my day at school because it makes me feel safe,” junior Kendall Cadegan said. “I have gotten used to it on my face, and it’s nice knowing that I have an extra preventative measure from COVID-19 and other illnesses.”

While some people wear masks for the purpose of preventing the spread of COVID-19, others wear them for unrelated reasons such as covering their faces. On the other hand, there are also people who choose not to wear masks due to discomfort or the fact that they are vaccinated.

“I don’t wear one just because my face gets really hot a lot of times when I do, but if it’s very cold if I’m sick, I do wear one,” junior Emily McVay said.

In the Olentangy school district, students in grades K-8 are required to wear masks while mask-wearing is optional for high school students because, it used to be that people 12 and older were the only ones able to be vaccinated. However, according to Vaccines.gov, people five years and older are now eligible.

“There is evidence that both vaccination and masking together are beneficial for reducing infection. As a parent of elementary age students, masks should still be required, since many will still not be vaccinated. Masking is also something that these students have gotten used to, so it may be a non-issue,” An employee at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who asked not to be identified said.

According to Columbus.gov, the city of Columbus reinstated a mask mandate for public areas such as stores and restaurants, but the high schools in the Olentangy district still deem masks as optional. The pandemic is still an ongoing issue, however mandates are not being enforced everywhere.

“It’s hard to force everyone in school to wear masks when the mandate is not officially in play anymore. It would be better to just have the mandates everywhere rather than only in some places so that it becomes less confusing to people,” junior Emily Uhl said.

Due to the lack of consistency with public spaces enforcing masks, it has made it difficult for places that continuously enforce masks to do so. Employees continue to be harassed by customers not wanting to comply.

“As someone who works at Starbucks, I’ve watched many of my coworkers get screamed at, spit on and even had hot coffee poured on them for trying to enforce the policy. So, I can understand why some people may have given up enforcing it at this point for their own safety,” McVay said.

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