New Mandated Allows For Students To Unmask

Mariana Mora, A&E Editor

This February, the school committee voted in favor of lifting the mask mandate that has been in place since students returned to school in February of 2021.  On February 28 face masks were made optional for everyone on school grounds, and only a few weeks later on March 10th, they were made optional on school buses as well. As of March 22nd, there are only four schools in the state of Massachusetts that chose not to lift their mask mandates. The only exception to this new ruling is that when visiting the nurse’s office or returning from Covid quarantine, you still have to mask up. The quarantine guidelines have not changed, as those who test positive are still expected to stay home for at least five days and can only return after that with no symptoms. The reaction among students and staff was very mixed before the mandate was lifted. Now, many students see masks as a concept of the past. 

At first, many students were happy about the change, but there were also many students who felt unsafe or unsure about the decision to make masks optional. “Lifting the mask mandate doesn’t seem like a good idea. I think it’s still too early as Covid-19 is still around and there are lots of variations popping out,” said freshman Malak Alrubaiy a week before the mandate was lifted. Other students also responded similarly especially when many people were still contracting the virus. Overall, the general defense for masks has been one of cautious optimism, worrying that taking the masks off too quickly will amount to a huge spike in cases, and even after three weeks of no masks, this initial fear is very much still apparent.  Sophomore Anthony Pierce said, “As much as lifting the mask mandate may be an appealing idea, it is definitely not a good idea, and this is backed by extraordinarily large quantities of scientific evidence. The mask mandate existed for a reason, and lifting it simply because cases started to go down for a while doesn’t seem like a very good reason to do so.” As Pierce explains, there is a reason why they were implemented in the first place. 

There are still people who are at risk when it comes to contracting Covid, and taking masks off may lead to apathy for any future attempt to reinforce the mask mandate. “Many students have recognized that I am a teacher who has taken this pandemic very seriously, as I should. I have followed science for two years now and have done all I can to keep everyone  safe around me. I am also high risk, so I have followed protocols with extra care, especially keeping windows open, as guided by health experts and also directed to do so by our superintendent,” said Spanish teacher, Señora Garcia. Garcia wants students to understand that there are still people who need to wear a face mask for medical reasons. She, along with several other faculty members here at our school are at high risk, meaning that Covid could be potentially deadly if it enters into their systems. This definitely adds another layer of worry when considering for this population contracting the virus is far more serious.  

“I’m happy to not wear a mask at this moment but I worry if there might be another spike of which masks may need to be out in place again. For now, I’m enjoying the sense of normality.”

”When West Springfield became mask optional after February break, I knew many were eager and ready for this step. Since our Covid cases were so high among students and faculty in January with the surge of Omicron, I recognized our district had reached more immunity, even with many still not vaccinated. I have worn a KF94 for months now, as I learned that wearing one good mask provides more safety than many around me wearing ineffective masks, or wearing masks poorly.”

Regardless of the safety questions it raises, masks have been worn on our faces for nearly two years and many say it feels like a good moment to finally get them off. “I am happy about it because there were lots of times where people thought that it was going to be lifted and now it finally is. I think everybody is sick of them,” commented junior Kytiana Thompson. The effects of the newfound freedom can be seen throughout the school, as most students as of recent have opted to go without masks for now. Sophomore Baye Leary explained,  “I’m happy to not wear a mask at this moment but I worry if there might be another spike of which masks may need to be out in place again. For now, I’m enjoying the sense of normality.” Señora Garcia also recognized that there are positives to going maskless, “ I have relished seeing smiling faces and being able to help my students with pronunciation of Español more. My students have commented that they were surprised that I am now so ‘chill’ with them being maskless. I reminded them that I have always helped to enforce established rules, and I occasionally had to remind my students, but constantly reminded students in the halls who were not wearing masks correctly during the mask mandate.” 

 Similarly, math teacher Mrs. Dionne, who is also high risk and wears a mask, found that as a teacher it was, “helpful to see their expressions while having class discussions so I can get an idea of how they’re feeling.” Mrs. Garcia added,Most recently, I have been very impressed by the amount of respect I have seen among Terriers as we all navigate these uncharted mask optional waters.”