BY MOLLY SLOAN
Two years ago, if you had asked Truman students what they first thought of when they heard the word “mask,” you probably would have gotten a lot of different answers. It’s possible some might have mentioned masks for costumes, traditionally found at party stores and worn on Halloween, or maybe even surgical masks worn in hospitals. It’s unlikely that someone would have described the use of masks that we see everywhere today: that is, being worn by everyone at Truman every day, just like millions of others across the nation. But at least for now, this is the reality of people everywhere, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.
On July 1, 2020, Jackson County issued a mask mandate for all public indoor and many outdoor spaces. Though there are still regions where a mandate has never been issued (Missouri itself doesn’t have any statewide mandates; counties are left to their own discretion), Jackson County wasn’t the first to make this call. Their mask mandate made its debut after the county-wide “stay at home” order was issued; in fact, it first came into play over a month after the order was dropped. By spring this year, the Jackson County mandate had finally been lifted, leaving only a gentle recommendation for the unvaccinated in its place. Many appreciated the sense of normalcy they found in life without masks, but over the summer, COVID-19 cases increased dramatically. By early August, the Jackson County mandate was back for all people regardless of vaccination status. This would mark the beginning of the second consecutive school year with a district mask requirement in place.
For many, the topic of masks is an extremely sensitive one. This debate is almost always political and often divided along party lines. It’s a troubling reality, especially during a global pandemic, when we need unity more than ever. But for people across the nation, Truman students included, the issue is too important to let lie. The debate begs a crucial question: what’s more important, personal liberty or public health? And how much are either of these actually being threatened?
Naturally, perspectives differ–a lot. Senior Theo Bailey, for one, sees masks as crucial for student safety. “My opinion hasn’t changed at all about masks through the pandemic. In fact, the mandates should continue to be thoroughly enforced throughout the US,” he said. He was so supportive of masks, in fact, that he adopted them as a daily practice before they were a requirement, “even though it wasn’t enforced at the current time. It made me feel happy in a sense, as a mask can provide a coverup for any insecurities one may have,” he said.
Junior Zachary Dawson has a different idea, though. While he, like Bailey, understood the necessity for masks initially, the appeal has worn off. “Before, I was perfectly fine with wearing a mask because we have two weeks to slow the spread,” he said. “If we could slow the spread, then we could distribute hospital beds and treatments more effectively.” However, he thinks we’ve passed this point–and now, “almost two years later, masks have become obsolete.”
But it’s more than just a black and white issue. Opinions on masks can be complicated, and they’re always subject to change. Though Bailey believes masks are an essential part of stopping the spread of a virus, he also recognizes that they’re not the only thing that matters. “[Masks] only serve as maybe 2/10ths of a covering if anything,” he said. “The virus can still transfer into your system through your ears, your eyes, et cetera.” CDC guidelines indicate that this is a possibility, but the virus is much more likely to transfer through the nose and mouth. Even so, knowing this added risk doesn’t change his mind. “If I had the choice, I would still wear one,” he said. “The virus won’t go away the moment masks aren’t required anymore–it can still pop up and become a whole pandemic again, which I’m sure none of us want.” To him, it’s a simple matter of prevention. “I understand why [people who refuse to wear masks] are frustrated because this is a new thing within recent years, but when it comes to the arguing and rioting against mask mandates, it’s honestly all stupid,” he said. “It’s a mask. Put it on and maybe the virus will go away.”
While many Truman students accept mask-wearing as a necessity for the greater good, it can run far deeper (and far more political). In a lot of cases, masking is seen as an attack on personal liberty. Dawson, for instance, believes proponents of mask mandates “make the fatal mistake of trusting the government.” The consequences of too much government control, he believes, are numerous. “The most famous example is the War on Drugs, where the CIA and others funneled drugs into poor communities and then busted them for using the drugs that the CIA gave them,” he said, referring to the CIA Contra controversy. “COVID-19 has been too huge of an opportunity for rich elites to conduct the biggest wealth transfer in history.” And the pandemic has allowed some companies to thrive as delivery-based services like Amazon recorded some of their highest revenue months ever. But we’ve also watched once thriving industries like Hollywood or airline travel see their numbers plummet. There’s even some debate as to whether the movie industry will ever return to pre-pandemic levels as they also face stiff competition from streaming services.
Regardless of personal opinion, it seems like masks are here to stay, at least for a while– and so is the mask debate. But there is something both sides have in common: both their arguments are built around real concern for others. It would be impossible to deny that their proposed methods for solving this global crisis are complete opposites, but at the end of the day, a safe return to normalcy is everyone’s priority. It’s going to be a while until that happens, though, which is something a lot more people agree on. “I believe we’re going to continue wearing masks as a society for a while,” said Bailey. “I can see masks leaving in summer of 2022, but I can also see them sticking around 2023 or 2024 with all the new variants coming in, and considering these variants are becoming immune to vaccines, maybe even longer.” Dawson, too, agreed that “we will continue to wear masks for the foreseeable future.”
And in the meantime, whether the virus calms down in two months or two years, it’s important to put away our differences and focus on unity. Working together is the one surefire way to get past this crisis as easily and as soon as possible. We certainly have enough time on our hands. As Bailey says, “It’s a virus. It’s not going to go away.”