Graphic by Lily Gottschling
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks have been a contentious issue. At the start of the pandemic, masks were in short supply and in high demand. Throughout the last two years, masks became required when in public spaces, including schools when kids returned to the classroom. Over time, masks have become highly politicized and a point of contention in politics and in public schools. The mask mandate in Ore. is set to expire March 12 with masks no longer being required in schools, or any places of public accommodation except for high-risk areas like medical facilities.
Andy West, teacher, believes that masks are essential to public safety. West sees this mandate being lifted as irresponsible,
“I was surprised and disappointed by the Oregon Health Authorities announcement,” West said. “I had assumed and wished that it would have remained in place through the end of the school year. I feel like that decision was more political than it was epidemiological.”
Along with teachers, both students and parents have encouraged the mandate to continue. Students across the country have advocated keeping the mask mandate, including places such as Vt., Calif., and Ore.
Julia Hernandez, senior, shares the same sentiment as West in regards to keeping the mask mandate but sees it from a different angle.
“I think for the past two years [we’ve] gone through this cycle where we things like slowly get better and then we lift the mask mandate,” Hernandez said. “[Then] things get worse and we have to put it back in place and then the cycle repeats, and I feel like it’s a little stupid to lift it right now.”
In terms of public safety, masks are seen as a controversial topic, and if they should be required in certain spaces. While some believe that masks should be optional and people have the right to not wear them, many others believe that this attitude towards masks is dangerous.
“Honestly, I think not wearing your mask comes from a lack of empathy,” Hernandez said. “Because, you know, I’ve heard a lot of people’s reasons for not wearing their mask-like, well, I’m vaccinated or, you know, I don’t know anyone immunocompromised but I think you really have to care about other people and other people’s safety in order to take these precautions.”
Ore. has received backlash against the length of the mask mandate as Ore. is one of just three states in the country that still requires masks indoors.
“I’d say [COVID-19]’s probably been handled as best as it could be,” West said. “You know, with a large student body and a lot of political viewpoints. We were never going to have any policy that everyone was comfortable with. That’s just not realistic.”
“Many who refuse to wear masks say it imposes on their individual freedom.” Lauren Aratani, from The Guardian, said.
It remains to be seen what the impact of lifting the mask mandate will be. While there are many excited about this change, there is also pushback within the community, who believe it’s not safe to lift this precaution yet.