Compliance with the science

Masking, however insignificant it may seem, clearly mitigates the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Should LM students and staff mask as we head into the spring? | Graphic by Emma Liu ’22/Staff

While 2022 has brought relative normality to school life so far, elements of school during the peak of the pandemic are still evident: mask mandates, case counts, vaccination rates, and the lingering threat of returning to virtual school all inhibit the prospect of fully returning to pre-2020 LM. Naturally, many people have started to question whether LM can begin to lift mask mandates as vaccination rates increase and case counts decrease in order to regain a sense of normality. While some now consider the plastic garments that adorn our faces more of an accessory than a necessity, it is essential that LM continues to uphold its mask mandate in order to protect public safety and uphold our duty as citizens. 

Even as vaccination rates in our community continue to climb, it remains undeniable that the threat of COVID-19 lingers behind the rapid tests and booster shots. Despite the decreasing case numbers nationwide (even in the wake of the Omicron variant), the Center for Disease Control still recommends universal indoor mask use for all faculty and students in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status, and the American Academy of Pediatrics urges that all students above the age of 2 wear a mask. These recommendations are not voiced without sufficient evidence: numerous studies have shown that mask wearing notably reduces the spread of COVID-19. A study of North Carolina school districts found that, of over one million students and staff members in public school districts from March to June 2021, over 7,000 adults and children acquired the virus but still attended school while infectious, resulting in more than 40,000 fellow student and staff members having to quarantine. However, through testing and contact tracing, only 363 children and adults exposed to those 7,000 infected peers actually contracted the virus. This is indicative of the effectiveness of masks: had all members in the study not worn a mask, the 5% rate of transmission would have been much higher. It is important to note that in all of these districts, no additional cautionary measures besides masking were taken, and rates of vaccination were not uniform among every school. Masking, however insignificant it may seem, clearly mitigates the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

What would happen if masks were not mandated by the school district? Despite LM’s remarkably high vaccination rate, this move would still present a gamble to the already transitioning district. As evidenced by a high school in Israel, reopening without mask mandates remains a risky move. When a high school in Israel reopened without instituting masking requirements and social distancing, they promptly had to shut down again after 10 days afterting reporting a large COVID-19 outbreak of 153 students (13.2% of total student population) and 25 staff members (16.6% of total faculty population). Even in the era of the vaccine, lifting mask mandates does not guarantee a lower rate of transmission. Recently, when mask mandates were made voluntary in states like Missouri and North Carolina, both COVID-19 cases and days missed due to quarantines increased, prompting many districts to reinstate mandatory mask mandates. Thus, the data is clear: wearing masks reduces the spread of COVID-19 and creates a safer schooling environment. 

Aside from the plethora of data emphasizing the efficacy of mask-wearing, it is our duty as citizens of a functioning society to look out for our fellow man. By living in a society, we relinquish certain freedoms in order to maintain a society. We give up a sense of complete freedom to live peacefully with others and maintain a governing body. As stated by renowned philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau in his work The Social Contract, we relinquish our natural freedom for a new sense of civic freedom. Part of this civic duty is ensuring that you do not willingly harm your neighbors or acquaintances. While you may not be concerned as to whether or not you catch COVID-19, or consider it your personal right to not wear a mask, it is your duty to take the necessary precautions to ensure that your neighbor does not acquire the virus. Just as you would not inflict violence on a neighbor, you should not expose your neighbor to a public safety risk. Therefore, it remains essential to undergo the minimal personal discomfort associated with wearing a mask to uphold our end of the societal contract.

Finally, some who still oppose mask mandates despite the innumerable evidence and pleas to consider the more vulnerable members of society point to other evidence which undermines the efficacy of mask-wearing. But, even if masks are proven ineffective, what is the harm in continuing to wear them? According to the Mayo Clinic, numerous studies have shown that wearing face masks produces no negative effects. Therefore, even if masks seem somewhat uncomfortable, LM guarantees its safety and ability to uphold its end of the societal contract by maintaining its current masking guidelines. Additionally, while case counts in Montgomery County continue to decline, eliminating mask guidelines now could result in a return to mid-December case count numbers, where the Omicron variant led cases to average 1,532 daily, over 1,000 more cases than today’s average. To protect others in Montgomery County and keep case counts low, it is imperative that LM maintains its current masking guidelines. With substantial evidence supporting the benefits of mask-wearing in schools and the necessity to uphold our end of the societal contract, LM must continue to operate with its current masking guidelines. 

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