Crossfire: Should We Keep Wearing Masks in School?

WCPSS’s decision to make masks optional for students, teachers, and staff in the “coming days” was announced to the public on Friday morning. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, most of us saw the choice coming with the recent mask mandate lifts in Johnston, Cumberland, and Harnett county schools.

It’s Time to Move On 

by Matthew Burkhart

Two years. Two years of loss. Two years of uncertainty. We can’t repeat the cycle. 

Just over one hundred years ago, the world was ravaged by the deadly Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, which infected about a third and claimed the lives of about 2.7% of the world’s population. After two years of losing family members and converting schools and libraries into hospitals, the 1918 pandemic ended as the world took their chance and transitioned back into normalcy during a down-period of the virus, when the flu mutated into a less-deadly strain. While there certainly were spikes of infections during this period, in the end, this transition put an end to the pandemic, even in a world before vaccines and modern medicine. This story could also be ours if we act now.

A century later, in a world of nanobots, stem cell-created organs, and vaccines for almost every viral illness, COVID-19 somehow took the world by surprise. Public health officials called for everyone to wear medical and cloth masks to slow the spread of the virus until the COVID-19 vaccines were developed and administered. A few months after the vaccines were released to the public in 2021, life seemed to be returning to normal: museums, malls, and movie theaters lifted their mask mandates during the summer of 2021 in one of the lowest infection periods, even when the majority of the nation wasn’t vaccinated yet and the virus wasn’t heavily mutated. It wasn’t until the delta variant took hold in August that the mask mandates returned. 

People took refuge and some even avoided getting vaccinated with the hope that masks were all that it took to avoid contracting the deadly virus. After thorough research, we now know that our trust was misplaced, as according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, the time that it takes to spread an infectious dose of COVID-19 from two people wearing cloth masks is 27 minutes, and 40 minutes with both wearing surgical masks, while it takes 15 minutes for an unmasked person to contract the virus from another unmasked person. After sitting in 90-minute classes with 30 people in each class on average, it is safe to assume that masks weren’t the only things keeping us from contracting COVID. What is even more telling is the use of the “Musician’s Masks” that band programs are required to use: they are simply masks split down the middle for a mouthpiece, which have become notorious for breaking expensive reeds and just being ineffective.

What kept us from returning to normalcy in the summer of 2021 wasn’t the fact that some of us stopped wearing masks, but the rise of the Delta variant, the most deadly variant of COVID-19. It wasn’t until the Omicron variant of late 2021 and early 2022 that we graduated from the thin sheet of cloth on our faces, to the reinforced N95 masks. According to the same study mentioned previously, it takes 25 hours for a person wearing an N95 to contract COVID from another person wearing an N95. While the Omicron variant is certainly the most contagious, it has also proved to be the least deadly of the variants, being 91% less deadly than the Delta variant, even more so for vaccinated and boosted individuals. Currently, Omicron is at its lowest transmission point for the first time in over a month, with 35,395 new cases being reported in NC on January 21st, and 2,888 on February 15th. Now that Omicron cases are plummeting and that COVID has mutated into such a weakened state, it’s as good of a time as any to take matters into our own hands and return to normalcy while we can. 

Another topic that has been discussed for the entirety of the pandemic is herd immunity. Herd immunity is the state at which the majority of a population is immune to disease, whether granted through immunity from being infected, or being vaccinated. Many experts believe that we are about to reach herd immunity, as most of the American population has either been vaccinated or has had COVID-19 at some point. In an interview with NBC, Boston Medical Center’s Dr. Sabrina Assoumou said, “Unfortunately, because Omicron is so transmissible, if you’re not vaccinated, Omicron will find you. That means that, hopefully, our immunity wall would actually get taller and we’ll be able to get to a more steady state and be able to adjust to the new normal.”

When WCPSS decided to end the mask mandate, they certainly didn’t make the decision expecting every single WCPSS student to show up to school, not wearing a mask on the next day. It’s natural for humans to be skeptical and to gradually ease into new things—that’s how we’ve survived this long as a species. What might start as only taking off your mask in your group of fully vaccinated and boosted friends in AP Stat could blossom into not feeling worried about walking maskless in the atrium in June. We’ve known since the beginning of the pandemic that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, so we might as well learn to live with it, and now is the time to do so.

After two years, it’s time to move on. Will you take your chance?


Anti-Maskers, Your Privilege Is Showing

By Jonah Yinger

It looks like the light at the end of the tunnel. A way out of the pandemic that has devastated every country, every community, every aspect of our lives for years. When Governor Roy Cooper appeared on our screens urging school boards across the state to end their mask mandates, I’m sure many of you were jumping with joy at the thought. In fact, I know you were, after tapping through handfuls of Instagram stories. 

The School Board’s decision to end this years-long district-wide mandate leaves many different groups of students, staff, and families scrambling to stay safe in the wake of anti-maskers’ selfishness and greed. Immunocompromised individuals, people whose underlying medical conditions make them more susceptible to COVID, depend on those of us in better health to keep them safe. Diligent mask-wearers have already been doing this throughout the pandemic by keeping their germs to themselves. Just because you have a nice, beefy immune system doesn’t mean others’ lives aren’t put at stake because of your arrogance. To people with underlying conditions, contracting COVID could mean a death sentence. Likely a long, miserable death sentence. 

Unmasking in the classroom also disregards the well-being of the young siblings and children of students and staff who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated against the virus. Pfizer’s COVID vaccine was recently authorized for emergency use on children 5-15 years old, broadening the age range much more drastically than the previous 12+ years rule. However, this doesn’t take into account the kids under 5 who live with people that go to Wake County schools every day. Protection through masking is a joint force and only works well if people on both ends wear their masks responsibly. Even if someone shows up to school every day in a protective mask, they are still at a risk of catching COVID. If this person has been vaccinated, they will probably not be greatly affected, but the unvaccinated children in their household could be hit hard and face long-lasting effects.

It takes our bodies 2-6 days for COVID symptoms to appear, sometimes even longer. Some people may have COVID and not show any symptoms at all, making it very difficult to know who around you could potentially infect you with the virus. The one defense mechanism we have always been able to rely on are the masks on our faces. If a masked infected person and a masked healthy person come in contact, their face coverings keep the transmission risk low, as opposed to a moderate or high risk if either or both people are unmasked. With asymptomatic COVID cases and recent implementation of a 5-day quarantine, masks seem to be our only hope in keeping normal lives in the midst of the pandemic. 

Enloe is one of the largest schools in Wake County. This is evident to any student who has had to navigate through the atrium during a class change or weave between groups of classmates to find their bus as the dismissal bell. Traversing our school with a virus circulating has the potential to make students feel unsafe and threatened in their learning environment. School is a place meant to cultivate creativity and intelligence, not provoke a sense of fear and danger for students. The day is creeping up on all of us to make our decisions. Are you willing to risk your classmates’ lives for a fragment of normalcy?