Post-Mandate Masking at Edgemont
On February 27, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced she would be lifting the mandatory mask mandate on schools. Two days later, on Tuesday, March 1st, Principal Hosier announced in a school-wide email that “starting tomorrow, masks will become optional in Edgemont schools and offices.” Though many were fearful of the masked and unmasked fracturing into violent tribes, that Wednesday was nothing but strange; there was even a sense of relief in the air for many.
Since then, the choice of whether to keep a mask on or take it off has been left completely to students. To learn just what they’ve decided to do, on March 16th, Campus sent a questionnaire to students asking a few questions about their current and future plans for masking.
Of the 165 people who responded, here are the overall results: 70.3% of respondents are currently choosing to keep a mask on, while 29.7% are currently choosing to not wear them.
Ninth graders are the most likely to keep their masks on, with an improbable 100% of the twenty-eight respondents saying they are currently keeping them on. Tenth grade has the most students taking their masks off, with 48.5% currently choosing to keep them on and 51.5% choosing to take them off. Out of 24 seventh graders, 75% are keeping them on and 25% are taking them off. Out of 27 eighth graders, 70.4% are keeping them on and 29.6% are taking them off. Of 26 eleventh graders, 73.1% are keeping them on, and 26.9% are taking them off. Finally, of 26 twelfth graders, 57.7% are keeping them on and 42.3% are taking them off.
“My mom works in a hospital and I [want] to make sure her patients don’t get Covid.”
So the majority of students continue to wear masks: but why? There are a variety of stories and reasons. Some feel a personal responsibility to their family. One eleventh grader said they’re keeping it on because “I have older relatives at home and want to keep them safe.” Another, a ninth-grader, said they’re keeping it on because “My mom works in a hospital and I [want] to make sure her patients don’t get Covid.”
“A whole lot of people started catching COVID right after the mask mandate was lifted. Correlation is not causation--but as the saying goes, where there's smoke, there's probably fire.”
Then again, some have decided to keep their mask on due to the rise in cases. Mr. Hosier, in an email one week after the mandate was lifted, reported that there were “12 new COVID-19 cases reported to me in the last 48-hours.” Some students see a correlation between these two events, as one eleventh grader said: “A whole lot of people started catching COVID right after the mask mandate was lifted. Correlation is not causation--but as the saying goes, where there's smoke, there's probably fire.”
“It feels safer and provides me with some comfort... it covers pimples and my nose/mouth.”
With the pandemic now in its second year, many students also feel more comfortable with their masks now. An eleventh grader said, “It feels safer and provides me with some comfort” and an eighth-grader made the point that “it covers pimples and my nose/mouth.” Some even feel uneasy with their masks off. A ninth-grader is keeping it on due to “anxiety about having it off and self-consciousness.”
“As it gets warmer it gets more difficult to wear masks inside so when Covid numbers go down and the temperature goes up I will most likely take my mask off”
The majority of students continuing to wear masks also don’t plan on taking their masks off anytime soon. 69.4% of masked respondents don’t plan on taking it off over the next couple of weeks, and only 30.6% do. Some choosing to take it off soon cite the warming weather; “As it gets warmer it gets more difficult to wear masks inside so when Covid numbers go down and the temperature goes up I will most likely take my mask off” says one ninth-grader. Others are just following their social atmosphere, as one eleventh grader says, they’ll take their mask off soon depending “... on if my friends will.”
"The only thing that would prompt me to take off my masks would be if all my friends stopped wearing their masks.”
But, for the nearly 70% choosing to keep them on for the foreseeable future, the risks are still too great. A twelfth grader believes masks “do not impede my daily life at all. The only thing that would prompt me to take off my masks would be if all my friends stopped wearing their masks.” To this majority, the risks outweigh the benefits of taking their masks off.
So why have nearly one-third of all students chosen to take their masks off? As one eighth-grader simply put it, “I feel like masks are restricting. It's easier to communicate, breathe and recognize people without a mask.” Some cite the fact that they are now “vaccinated and not worried about serious consequences because of the lower risk due to the fact I am vaccinated.”
While many believe the masks to be restricting, some believe them to be ineffective, saying things like “It doesn't do anything” or “it has been proven to not work.”
“I really like the environment it creates when I can see everybody’s smiles and talk to people properly with no mask on.”
A few talked about the better learning and social atmosphere it creates for them. As a twelfth grader said, “I really like the environment it creates when I can see everybody’s smiles and talk to people properly with no mask on.”
The common thought among all those choosing to take off their masks is the “want to go back to normal.” Nevertheless, those currently choosing to take their masks off seem willing to put them back on under the right circumstances, with 62.4% of them saying there is something that would prompt them to put a mask back on, and 37.5% saying there is not.
That ‘something’ includes, as a twelfth grader put it, “a lot of close contacts”, and, as a tenth grader put it, “a new variant of considerable concern.” People are also remaining keenly aware of the choices of their classmates, with one eleventh grader saying, “being in a class with a lot of people unmasked would make me want to wear my mask more” and another eleventh grader citing their “friends preferences.”
Though people's choices and reasoning for those choices will most likely continue to be different, one thing is certain: the vast majority of students believe the mandate was the right move. Asked, “Do you believe the mask mandate was effective?” 82.4% responded yes and 17.6% responded no. However, when asked “Do you agree with the decision to get rid of the mandate now?” students were much more divided: 58.2% of students responded yes, and 41.8% responded no.
“Although the mask mandate was successful, I still feel that not wearing a mask is better for you.”
An eighth grader, who is currently continuing to wear their mask, said that “I think it was okay to remove the mask mandate now because cases are slowing and the omicron normally doesn't have life-threatening symptoms/hospitalizes a lot of people compared to earlier variants.” Another eighth grader, who is choosing to take their mask off, agrees for different reasons: “Although the mask mandate was successful, I still feel that not wearing a mask is better for you.”
"The pandemic isn't over and it's stupid to pretend that it is just for personal comfort or whatever. I won't personally go up to anyone and tell them to wear a mask, but I do think everyone should still have to wear a mask.”
Of the large minority who think this was the wrong time to get rid of the mandate, one eleventh grader choosing to keep their mask on said, “It's still unsafe for people who have compromised immune systems, people who are disabled, etc. The pandemic isn't over and it's stupid to pretend that it is just for personal comfort or whatever. I won't personally go up to anyone and tell them to wear a mask, but I do think everyone should still have to wear a mask.” A tenth grader also continuing to keep their mask on agreed this is the wrong time, saying, “The lift of the mandate is pressuring others to take their mask off regardless if it's their families decision or their own. It creates a precedent for the generality of people that have their mask ON to be called out as insecure or scared. Hence, the mandate lift made the situation worse.”
School administrators, in their weekly email on March 5th, said that the “transition to optional masking went as well as we could have expected” and that they were very “proud of the way our students, faculty, staff, and community are navigating this change.” They also remarked how it was “great to see smiling faces again” and stressed how “this important decision is a personal one for each individual to make in consultation with their families. Individuals should not feel pressured into making their decision.”
"I'm glad friendships aren't breaking over the mandate.”
As circumstances change, so will opinions. There’s no doubt we’ll be seeing students who initially took their mask off putting it back on, and vice versa. In these troubling times, it’s incredibly important we do not turn on one another. As one eleventh grader fittingly put it, “I expected there to be this huge rift that'd open up between the masked and unmasked (not to mention it's mostly the teachers who have unmasked) but I see masked kids interacting and conversing with their unmasked peers just fine. No side-eyes, no dirty looks, etc. I guess it speaks to Edgemont's community bond -- or we're all just too academically burned out to spend energy forming cliques based on a face covering. Either way, I'm glad friendships aren't breaking over the mandate.”