To Mask Or Not To Mask- That is the Question
Updated: Mar 2
What is normalcy? In the world of the pandemic, normalcy brings on a chronic fatigue of being accustomed to uncertainty. It is a fluid definition that is constantly fluctuating. In the last two years, normalcy has denoted turning on the television daily to hear the same mind-numbing news about increases in cases and new variants and debates over schools, businesses, and vaccines. Hearing about anxiety-inducing statistics. Wearing a mask, and wondering when the day will come that it is no longer needed. However, now, its definition is changing once again, as we make progress, it seems, towards the real normal, the normal from before the pandemic.
On February 10, Governor Hochul lifted the mask mandate for businesses throughout New York State. For some, this brings optimism and hope that the pandemic is approaching an end. For others, this causes trepidation and suspicion that the virus will only spread more easily, causing a new variant and another surge in the pandemic. What does the removal of the mask mandate truly mean, and what effect will it have on us?
The removal of the mandate is a decision affected by more than raw political and scientific data. It is largely based on psychological implications, offering a new form of hope and marking a step in tackling the pandemic. Numerous studies have shown the negative social effects of mask-wearing, whether on young kids learning to speak who do not remember a world before masks, or individuals with communication needs who rely on a full face of expressions to discern conversation. In our own everyday lives, we are familiar with the inconveniences that masks pose, whether in the struggle to make proper facial expressions, difficulty speaking and hearing through the mask, or the plain discomfort that comes with constantly wearing it. Masks are signs that nature and disease have prevailed over ourselves, so for many, the decision to remove them is a sigh of relief as we acknowledge and embrace our return to a new normal, and our control over our own situation. But is it the right decision?
We cannot ignore the scientific data about the pandemic that still exists. On the surface, it can seem promising. Omicron cases have plummeted by 63% according to the New York Times, and some states have been classified as “low risk” due to their small number of outbreaks. However, the fact that numbers are declining does not equate to an objectively low number of cases. There is still an average of around 121,000 new cases of Covid daily in the U.S., and in fact, surprisingly, the number of Covid deaths has recently increased slightly in New York. While many hope and believe that the Omicron wave produced herd immunity and will mark the ending phase of the pandemic, this remains to be seen. (President Biden has even extended the country’s State of Emergency that was said to expire in March.)
The decision to remove the mask mandate is one that we may be looking forward to, but it is clearly not as trivial as it may seem. Although we may be moving towards a nostalgic normalcy, we must acknowledge the hard truth: nobody knows what this decision will bring. Though we may be eager and optimistic to embrace the literal and figurative “breather” that has been bestowed upon us, we must conduct ourselves with caution, as the future of this pandemic remains unknown.
* Since the time of this writing, the mask mandate has been lifted for schools and school buses, and masking is now optional for all NSHA students and staff.