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OpEd: The Mask Mandate

With the rise of COVID-19 cases and recent outbreaks, the RASG Hebrew Academy High School has seen the return of the mask rule. As of Monday, December 27th, all students and faculty are required to mask up indoors. However, as Dr. Jones wrote in an email to the student body, “we will change this requirement based on the medical committee's advice.”

Being in the second year of the pandemic, masks are certainly not new to anyone. A heavy majority of students polled will tell you that they hate masks and the mask rule, almost automatically. The reasons vary from pure inconvenience to discomfort, to just not seeing the point. Not every student aligns themselves with this point of view and the average student, regardless of opinion, is obviously not part of any medical committee. Even so, the question must be asked: Do they have a valid argument?

The most prevalent concern at the moment is the Omicron strain of coronavirus. It is extremely contagious because this variant code is better at “locking into our cells, and can infect people- even the vaccinated- more easily”, said Cynthia Leifer, a professor of immunology at Cornell University. Surely if the virus is that much more contagious, then we definitely should be masking as much as possible and indoors at the least. But are masks even effective or protective enough?

Masks are designed to block the wearer’s virus particles, so when they exhale their bacteria and germs do not enter the air around them. This is why they are a good barricade for coughing and sneezing. However, they may not serve as suitable protection against what is already in the air from entering one’s nose and mouth: “Cloth masks, which are often made of materials like cotton, don’t do much to protect you from inhaling particles that carry the virus — and with a virus as infectious as omicron, that becomes a problem,” Health Essentials reported in an article from Cleveland Clinic. So, to productively fight Omicron people would need to step up from a cotton mask to a more heavy-duty one. Theoretically, this would be fine, but the practical issue remains that many prefer to only wear a cotton mask, if a mask at all. For these individuals, if wearing a mask versus not wearing a mask makes no difference in their potential of catching COVID, then there is really no incentive to wear one.

The whole school masking could prevent case outbreaks. However, like all rules, this is only as effective as it is enforced. And while many students and teachers wear masks indoors, and some faculty members enforce the rule, many do not. At any given moment inside a classroom, more than half of the students and potentially the teacher are not wearing masks properly or at all. If the rule is so obviously ignored, what is the point of it even existing?

The answer is that there really isn’t one. A mask that doesn’t cover your face isn’t stopping anything and omicron seems to be too infectious even with a proper mask. Additionally, it is virtually impossible for the school to enforce the rule effectively. The students who feel empowered to where one will continue to do so and the ones who don't want, regardless of rules.

By: Hadassah Reich (12th)

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