As mask mandate expires, most students and staff still choose to wear them

March 18, 2022 — by Christina Chang and Lynn Dai
Photo by Sanjoli Gupta
Out of 33 responses gathered from a Google form sent to the SHS 2021-2022 Facebook group, 6 are for the lifting of the school mask mandate and 27 are against.

On Feb. 28, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Washington announced they would be gradually removing the mask mandate in schools in the following weeks. Santa Clara County ended their mask mandate on March 2. Additionally, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the statewide indoor mask mandate for schools would be lifted for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, on March 11.

In a district-wide email released on March 3, Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District superintendent Michael Grove announced that, starting March 14,  indoor masking  at school will be “strongly recommended, but optional for students and staff.” Teachers can request but not require students to wear masks.

The change in masking policies was established as a result of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated metrics: Before Feb. 25, indoor mask mandates were recommended for highly dense public areas to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, the CDC’s COVID-19 community level metrics are dependent on three factors: new hospitalizations, hospital capacity and new cases.

Many students disagree with these updated masking policies.

In a Google form sent out in the SHS 2021-2022 Facebook group which received 33 responses, 81.8% of respondents were against the removal of the school mask mandate, while 18.2% were supportive of it. When asked whether they would continue to wear masks even after the lifting, 81.3% said they would, whereas 12.5% are unsure and 6.3% would not. 

The statistics from the survey are reflected on campus: Despite the removal of the requirement, the vast majority of students and staff at SHS continued to wear masks in the first week when they weren’t required. However, if trends continue and cases remain low, more say they may begin to unmask in the coming weeks.

While sophomore Dhruva Jayanth said he is not worried about his safety as he is fully vaccinated and has received one booster shot,  he doesn’t mind others going without masks inside.

For her part, biology and chemistry teacher Kellyann Nicholson, who is immunocompromised, described the dropping of the mask mandate as concerning.

“I am a little freaked out,” she said. “I’m worried about getting sick and about students bringing the virus home to little ones under 5 who haven’t been vaccinated yet.”

Nicholson noted that schools around the nation were shutting down because of a few cases in March 2020; yet in the first week of March 2022, there were 10 new cases on campus, and school has continued to run as usual with safety precautions. She is especially concerned about the transmission of cases inside smaller classrooms — in most math classrooms at school, students are tightly packed next to each other in rows and columns. While she said she understands the political and economic reasons for the new masking guidance, Nicholson will be asking students to keep their masks on in her classroom or sit in the back. 

Although she’s not sure when the mask mandate should ideally be removed, Nicholson prefers to keep masks on while people are already used to it rather than flipping back and forth with mask requirements.

“If cases start increasing again, we’ll have to put our masks back on,” she said. “I’d rather just get rid of them once and for all.”

Nicholson noted that while wearing a mask can feel uncomfortable, she witnessed its efficacy recently firsthand when she tested negative for COVID-19 after an hour of talking to a student who tested positive the day before their talk. Although they were less than two feet apart, both were wearing masks.

“I’m sick of masks too, but they really do work,” she said.

Though some have chosen to continue wearing masks while at school, others, such as sophomore Johan Amirineni, are going without masks for now.

“We’ve been in the pandemic for two years, and I think it’s all right if we just walk around campus without the masks on,” Amirineni said. “Most of the campus is already vaccinated and some people have already had COVID-19. Since [most of us are] teenagers, we have pretty strong immune systems. I’m tired of wearing masks. It’s nice to just speak freely and breathe some fresh air.”

Similarly, physics teacher Kirk Davis supports the removal of mask mandates as he thinks it’s “appropriate given the infection rate” as the number of cases are dropping.

Additionally, he personally has not known anybody who has gotten severely sick with the virus after being vaccinated. Regarding his students who have contracted COVID-19, a majority were asymptomatic and mostly just “frustrated to stay home for five days.” 

However, because Davis will be flying to Scotland for his daughter’s wedding in early April, he will continue to wear an N95 mask to be extra cautious.  

“I’m fully vaccinated and boosted. I have no other health liabilities,” Davis said. “So I think even if I got [COVID-19], it wouldn’t be a severe illness.”

Another reason to not wear masks has to do with good teaching, he said.

“I think there’s a lot that can be communicated [through facial expressions],” Davis said. “I tend to joke a bit in class, and it’s hard to tell when I’m joking versus when I’m serious without seeing all my facial features.”

He also looks forward to seeing his students’ faces because when he sees students outside his classroom without their masks, he sometimes can’t recognize them.

Davis sees the lifting of the mandates as a sort of middle ground.

“I think it’s an individual choice,” he said. “People who say ‘no more masks; I don’t want to wear them,’ they can do what they want. And if you feel comfortable wearing a mask and want to be protected, [you can wear it]. Everybody’s got different opinions, and [we have to make sure that we respect that].

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