Should masks come off?

Photo by Stephanie Samsel

By: Stephanie Samsel, Associate Editor

Towson University’s (TU) COVID-19 Response Leadership Team announced updated changes to mitigation protocols in accordance with the University System of Maryland’s “step-down approach” to mitigation strategies, in an email on Feb. 22. 

This update comes as less than 0.5% of TU’s campus tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the spring semester, according to the University Health Center. Over 95% of the TU community is vaccinated. 

To the agitation of some and the relief of others, none of these changes currently concern masking protocols for the spring semester, as many students have strong opinions either in favor of or against TU’s mask requirement. 

Sophomore Cody Campbell drew a lot of pushback from his letter to the editor arguing for the mask mandate to be lifted, writing that “the responsibility of the individual to determine what is right for themselves” is integral to America’s founding. 

“A global pandemic cannot end without sacrifices from everyone,” one Facebook comment read in response to the letter. “If YOU don’t want to wear a mask to protect YOUR community, then I recommend you find fully ONLINE classes and take them from your home where you can safely remove the mask and your individual decision and behavior does not affect others.”

Campbell said that he was initially upset as he read the criticism, but he understood that the right of people to be entitled to their opinion goes both ways. 

“It did for a couple of minutes make me wonder, ‘Why did I post this?’,” said Campbell. “Because I’m not really one for drama, but I understand that with politics comes drama.”

He shared that he has received more positive feedback overall from readers who have approached him in-person than readers who have made online comments. 

“The people that have talked to me in-person have praised [the letter],” said Campbell. “And it’s been really nice to be praised for a letter, considering I don’t really have any writing training or serious political ingenuity. They’ve said that they enjoy it, they back it 100%.”

Campbell was also pleased to hear that some have enjoyed the “civil discourse,” which aligns with his hope for people to “think for themselves” instead of “forcing their opinions” on others. 

When confronted with the accusation that he does not care about people, Campbell defines mask-wearing as a personal choice. 

“How far do I have to keep restricting myself to ensure that other people feel safe?” asked Campbell. “It’s not my job to make people feel safe, it’s their job to make sure that they feel safe.”

Other students disagree with the sentiment that masks should be made optional. 

Freshman biology major Emma Green views mandating masks of any model as “a source of comfort” for public safety and better performance in class. 

“The cases have gone up [without mask mandates],” said Green. “So I think it gives a lot of the students a sense of safety and limits anxiety in the classroom, which leads to more focus and understanding of the courses they’re taking.”  

While some argue that only the people most vulnerable to the virus should wear masks, Green looks to studies that indicate “COVID[-19] spreading goes both ways,” saying “the safety of immunocompromised teachers and students greatly outweigh the uncomfortable feeling of wearing a mask.” 

Green added that she believes indoor mask-wearing is a small and accessible price to pay to keep in-person education and classes running smoothly. 

“It doesn’t really take away from the college experience to just put on a mask,” said Green. “I understand that KN95s, for a lot of people, are a big jump above the regular masks or cloth masks, but for a lot of people they’ve been able to go to an office in a building and just grab one for free.” 

Campbell is not the only student questioning the need for mask protocols. 

One TU athlete calls the university’s spring requirement of KN95 masks in exclusively classroom settings a “logical fallacy” based on previous guidelines. 

“It’s always been if you’re inside you have to wear masks and then you think, ‘Okay, we’re in a classroom,’” she said. “It’s just a different room, where we happen to be sitting stagnantly, and then we have to wear a whole ‘nother [mask].” 

As a field hockey player used to practicing outdoors maskless, she classifies COVID-19 restrictions as “false pedestals” that people follow for the sake of saying “I’m being good.”

“I am in close proximity with these girls all day long outside,” she said. “We’re side by side, face by face, breathing on each other, even in a huge gymnasium, you’re expected to wear masks when [the gym air is] being filtered through every day.” 

While the USM’s statement on Feb. 14 announced it is “determining modifications” to the masking requirements on campus, each university will adjust its own mitigation efforts based on local transmission data.

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