Students are required to mask up indoors, but who enforces it?
By Riley Mulcahy
It is hard to imagine that more than two years ago there was a time where a mask was not needed to participate in everyday life. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it so to protect other people from the virus, and we have to cover our mouth and nose. This fall, following county guidelines, Saint Mary’s has required masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. However, requiring and enforcing the mask mandate are two different things.
One question that remains unclear is whose job is it to enforce mask requirements around campus. There have been times in my classes where I have seen students without masks indoors, and only twice has a professor asked them to put their masks back on. In one class that I am in, any chance students get, the mask falls below their mouth to try and have a conversation with friends while the professor is not looking. The role of the professor is not to police mask-wearing in classrooms; however, there are not a lot of other options when there is one professor with a class of 24 students.
Although everyone is supposed to be vaccinated to live on campus, there are flaws to the system that allow religious exemptions, and therefore not everyone on campus is vaccinated. Given this problem, it is hard to tell who is vaccinated and who isn’t, making masking indoors more critical. The groans of students who have to wear a mask indoors are a lot smaller than the more than 700,000 lives lost from this horrible disease.
In a recent email in preparation for Halloween weekend, the administration of Saint Mary’s reminded the SMC community of the mask mandate due to the changing guidance of Contra Costa COVID-19 guidelines. The email states in part “to prioritize the health and wellness of our campus community, and out of an abundance of caution, Saint Mary’s will continue to require that masks be worn indoors for the duration of the fall term.” Additionally, the email states that although the mask mandate indoors in Contra Costa is officially lifted, and that “while we are encouraged by the declining case rate, regardless of the county’s decision, Saint Mary’s requires that you continue to wear your mask indoors on campus in public spaces throughout the term.”
Wearing a mask is a simple way to protect immunocompromised people and those who cannot get the vaccination. In close settings inside, the likelihood of a COVID-19 exposure is a lot more than outside. At the recent performance of Everybody at the Redwood Grove put on by the SMC theatre program, masks were required and not enforced. I must admit that I am more relaxed about wearing masks outside because there is less of a risk of COVID-19 spreading. However, it is crucial to be mindful of others in understanding when or when not to wear a mask.
The enforcement of masks is a complex topic because it requires students to look at the collective rather than themselves. However, if the community refuses to wear masks, there must be enforcement inside the classroom. When we do not abide by health orders, we risk the safety of the 24 people in the class and anyone they come into contact with. Recently, a cold was going around campus, and there was concern that it might be COVID-19. However, those with symptoms got tested for COVID-19, and luckily, it was just the common cold. It is an important reminder not to be too comfortable and that we are still in a global pandemic, regardless of how people feel about wearing masks.
Melanie Moyer '22,