Point/Counterpoint: Should Masks Stay or Go?


Let’s be completely frank with each other: none of us live in complete isolation like we did in April over a year ago. It’s not possible anymore as people have jobs, friends, sports, a life we all have to live. Everyone at this point has either been exposed to COVID long enough to have antibodies or has been vaccinated.
If someone wants to argue for masks in schools, that’s completely fine with me, but in order for that position to be tenable at all there has to be homogeneity in your argument. If you want to argue that point, then anyone who has been to the football games has no ground to stand on. The stands have nowhere near three feet of spacing in between constituents yet no one pushes for masks in the Bears Den. If someone unknowingly had COVID and was in the middle of the Bears Den, I would bet my college tuition that everyone around them would have at least a sniffle the next day. So why don’t we hear anyone arguing for that? When we’re in a relatively well-socially distanced school climate why is it a crime to push for a relaxing of the mask mandate?
At this point in the pandemic, enough people have been exposed to COVID meaning that the majority of our peers will either have antibodies or have been vaccinated with 73.7% of people in NY aged 16-25 (NY State, 2021) having been vaccinated. Science has shown that immunity provided by vaccination is significantly higher than that of natural immunity and protects better against novel strains. If a vast majority of us have been vaccinated, then that is a great argument against the necessity of masks in public schools. What is the point of us being vaccinated when we’re told ad nauseum how effective it is? Why do we still need to follow the same precautions as our non-vaccinated counterparts?
We’re told from the moment we set foot in this building freshman year that we’re being trained to be adults and make our own decisions without mommy or daddy; we’re pushed into the flames to deal with our own deadlines and our own social problems (albeit with a little help from staff). Why should this social Darwinism be cut off at our decisions pertaining to whether or not we wear a mask? The school doesn’t tell us what to eat or how much to sleep; why should that precedent stop when it comes to masks? If the American school system feels the need to thrust this idealistic view of decision making onto us then you can’t give it to us lukewarm; we need to either complete autonomy in our decision making or none at all.
In stores, restaurants, and gyms, we aren’t required to wear masks, provided some of us still do and that’s great if it makes you feel more comfortable. Most facilities around here however are mask optional with no proof of vaccination required. Why should that be any different for a school? In a gym, people are sharing equipment, breathing heavily, sweating all over the place. Find yourself a tenable way to argue that going to a socially distanced high school requires a mask more so than in those places, and while you do that, I’ll wait for hell to freeze over.
We as young adults don’t need a federal babysitter to tell us what protection we should use for a disease with a 97% recovery rate. We need to be educated about the factual pieces of this debate and not strong-armed into thinking one side is “morally right” or that the other “doesn’t care about old people and babies.” This debate, like most in life, isn’t about right or wrong: it’s about your own personal risk assessment.

Ever since we’ve come back to school for in-person learning for the first time in over a year and a half, all I see is the big discussion about whether mask mandates for schools should be required regardless of vaccination status. There is no reason to even discuss this issue since masks have been proven time and time again to prevent the spread of the virus. Vaccinated or not, you can still contract COVID-19 no matter how low the percentage of cases is. We cannot afford to lose another year of school because of the foolishness and carelessness of our classmates.
It shouldn’t be a debate about personal rights and liberties but rather about the greater good and the safety of others. By refusing to wear masks, vaccinated or not, we run the risk as a community of putting the more vulnerable in jeopardy. I know masks can be uncomfortable to wear for 8 hours a day, and I have been furious at the so-called inability to breathe correctly through a mask, but we have to remember that this isn’t just about us but rather about our community.
Let’s take for example the younger students at JFK Elementary and C.V. Starr. Until recently, many younger students were not able to get vaccinated against the virus. This lack of vaccine put them at a more severe risk of infection than students here at the high school. If an outbreak were to happen at these schools, we would more than likely switch back to online learning. After almost two years of that, do we really want to go back knowing it was within our own hands to prevent such a thing from happening in the first place?
Students like me are often astonished at the carelessness with which individuals express their distaste for vaccines, masks, and other health precautions. It has been this very logic and stubbornness that has kept us in the grips of this health crisis. We all have a part to play if we want this pandemic to be over so we can return to normalcy. The concern amongst some about the vaccine is real. We all have our own beliefs and thoughts, but how can you willingly choose not to vaccinate yourself and also not to wear your mask properly? In addition to putting your own health at risk, you’re also putting the health of students who can’t get vaccinated at risk.
It’s pure selfishness at its finest. Poor reasoning leads to false beliefs and poor decisions, but during a pandemic, these same actions are resulting in preventable suffering and death. As citizens, we ought to expect our leaders to make better decisions. If their arguments and facts are flawed, we need to hold them accountable. Despite our political preferences, who we look up to for leadership or guidance, and regardless of what we believe in, it is up to us to make a difference and help beat this pandemic once and for all.