Nelson: It’s a Mask, Not a Muzzle

Students+at+the+University+of+Utah+are+following+the+COVID-19+guidelines+by+wearing+masks+while+working+on+campus+%28Photo+by+Abu+Asib+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

Students at the University of Utah are following the COVID-19 guidelines by wearing masks while working on campus (Photo by Abu Asib | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Paige Nelson, Opinion Writer

 

As students return to campus, confirmed COVID-19 case numbers have risen in college towns all over the country. Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, just exceeded 2,000 positive cases since school began in mid-August — and they certainly aren’t the only ones. At the University of Notre Dame prior to school starting, there was a 0.28% chance of testing positive, but shortly after classes started campus numbers jumped to a nearly 16% positivity rate. Whether or not students are asymptomatic or fighting off the virus, it is unacceptable to have these outrageous numbers on campus.

Thankfully, here at the University of Utah, we started off ahead of the game. I was tested upon arrival when I moved into my dorm and it took around 24-48 hours to receive my test results. Since August 15, there have been around 130 reported cases within the 62,000 members of the campus community — approximately 0.0021%. On September 4, Salt Lake City made the transition from phase orange to phase yellow, but the U decided to stay in orange until after our “circuit breaker” — a two-week period where all classes go online — ends on October 10.

Our university has taken many other great strides in providing a safe, but beneficial, environment for all students on and off-campus. In the dining halls, we are instructed to take our food to go so that there are less contaminated surfaces. In the classroom, we are able to socially distance by sitting a few chairs apart from our peers, and at least six feet from our professors. If we have a virtual class, Zoom allows us to meet as a whole class, or move to break out rooms to discuss concepts in a less awkward environment. All of these steps are helping keep our numbers low. But there is always more that we can do.

To maintain on this positive track, we all must comply with the U’s COVID-19 Policies. Across the U.S., there has been pushback against mask mandates. And I get it — no one wants to wear something over their face in the 90-degree heat of summer. I will be the first to admit that wearing a mask is frustrating, annoying and sweaty. But at the end of the day, there really is no real harm in wearing one. As students, we have a responsibility to do what we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus — even if those efforts create minor inconveniences.

We each need to set an example. We should wear our masks when we’re grabbing food from the dining hall or hanging out in public spaces with friends. We need to practice social distancing whenever we can. These are simple acts that will make everyone around us a little safer and implicitly encourage others to do the same. In my experience, when I wear a mask, my friends will too.

When we can’t socially distance, or are inside an establishment with mask mandates, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask others to comply. It seems scary, and I know many of us don’t want to face confrontation, but it really could save someone’s life. If you don’t feel comfortable asking a stranger to follow guidelines, you can always inform a manager, supervisor or whomever else might be in charge. Before moving to college, I worked at a Panera Bread near Seattle, WA. As a front-of-house associate, I was often faced with customers who didn’t want to comply with the store’s policies. What I’ve learned is that if you ask politely, most people don’t have an issue with putting a mask on.

Given the simplicity of these guidelines and the great reward they can bring, there’s no good excuse for not wearing a mask around campus. Students can obtain free face coverings from the school. By following these steps, we can show our community that they matter. We knew what we were getting into before the semester started, and the best thing we can do now is to make this process as easy as possible. Mask up for the sake of others and show our city that we will get through this together.

We are already missing out on a normal semester with less in-person classes, decreased social interaction and no fall football season. The quickest way to get through this pandemic is by masking up and supporting the U’s decisions to try and keep us safe. We don’t want to end up like the University of Alabama or Notre Dame. And it’s definitely not too late to make a difference.

 

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@PaigeKNelson1