Poma: Yes, We Need to Wear Masks This Fall Semester

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"Some individuals have taken to social media to make memes about the coronavirus while others have documented instances of discrimination in public spaces and taken a stand against xenophobia." (Photo by Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sasha Poma, Opinion Writer

 

Over the past several months, we’ve all experienced unprecedented changes in our daily lives due to the coronavirus pandemic. With that, face masks and coverings – which have been heavily debated since the beginning of this crisis – quickly became an essential part of everyone’s wardrobe, and on June 25, Gov. Gary Herbert approved Salt Lake and other counties to mandate masks in public spaces. While the decision has faced backlash, and is likely to spur more, we must keep the reasons for face covering mandates in mind.

As parts of Utah move toward more relaxed phases of the state’s health guidelines and in-person classes resume, it’s tempting to believe masks aren’t necessary. But studies surrounding mask usage and a second wave of the virus – potentially on the horizon by semester’s end – indicate that Utahns need to continue wearing masks, even if it seems odd or causes discomfort.

At the end of May, the University of Utah announced its return to campus plans for the fall semester despite still being in the orange phase of coronavirus protocol. It’s debatable whether we should be back on campus at all, but school leaders did take care to include a requirement that students and faculty wear face masks to enter all campus facilities. It’s important to understand why this is happening and comply as much as possible. After all, a vaccine or cure is still in development, and the summer’s high COVID-19 case count indicates that people are already anxious to get back to normal.

At the time of Gov. Herbert’s mandate and the U’s return to campus plan, the average number of cases per day in Utah ranged from the 200s to the 300s, as indicated by the official data. But once regulations began to ease up in light of lower case counts, people assumed that the pandemic was over. Throughout the summer, record spikes in cases occurred regularly because people ignored safety regulations.

Now more than ever, Utahns need to take masks and other precautions seriously to prevent further case increases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention warns that though regulations are lighter, we should all continue to practice social distancing and other preventative measures. The Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force also shared this sentiment, tweeting on June 22 that lower restrictions do not equate to a lower risk of the coronavirus.

So it’s essential that we do our part to protect others by wearing masks, which the CDC emphasizes can lessen the spread of the virus. In fact, a recent metastudy found that we could end the pandemic if just 60% of people would wear even a simple, two-layered cotton covering. At this point, Utah cannot risk making face masks optional, except for a small number of people with health conditions that make wearing one dangerous.

With this in mind, Gov. Herbert has asked Utahns to “do better” as far as wearing masks, and organizations have stepped up to ensure each of us has access to appropriate coverings. For example, the “Mask for Every Utahn” campaign provides free face masks to anyone who asks, prioritizing essential workers and those with a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

As we begin establishing new routines this semester, we must acknowledge the purpose of Gov. Herbert’s mandate, particularly for us as students at the U. According to the CDC, colleges and universities are at a higher risk of outbreaks because they are beginning to interact face-to-face once more – both on and off campus. Since many students take public transit and in general will interact more closely with each other than we have for the past several months, we need to be mindful of our potential for spreading the virus, which could be devastating to the campus community. We don’t want to repeat the uncertainty and loss of experiences we faced during spring and summer semesters. So as thousands of us take the calculated risk of returning to campus, we’ll have to commit to wearing masks and practicing general cleanliness to provide as much safety as possible.

As the semester starts, Utahns should remember the U and other public places are not at a “new normal” stage yet. We can and should work to make the transition as smooth as possible for ourselves, our faculty and staff and the community in general. Masks are readily available at the campus store and through other online retailers and organizations – so there’s no excuse not to wear a covering of some kind. Hopefully, if we continue to keep our distance outside of school and take these precautions, we can return to the kind of campus life we know and love a bit more quickly.

 

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@spoma301