Opinion: Status of masks should be reliant on COVID cases

Gabby Reese, Staff Writer

Image by Tíag

When the mask mandate in Illinois was dropped February 28 for most public areas,  many people seemed to be trying to go back to “normal” life. Fellow students, including myself, are overjoyed that COVID numbers are getting better. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average COVID positivity rate for Illinois has dropped to 1.1 percent this week from 15.1 percent at the end of January. That’s a whopping 14.1 percent decrease in the matter of only eight weeks, but my concern is the probable rise in cases that may occur in the weeks after spring break. 

We have seen significant spikes in the number of COVID cases around holidays, specifically around spring break when many college students are traveling out of state and being very social during their travels. In the testing required prior to returning to IWU campus from winter break, 100 positive cases were identified between the weeks of December 30 to January 6.  Even though IWU has seen jumps in positive cases after breaks,  IWU is considering “mask mitigations” and will decide by March 25, which is only a week after we return from break.

The thought of spring break tends to inflict stress when taking into consideration that spring break in 2020 was when our global pandemic ultimately began. Although it’s supposed to be a time of rest, I am worried about the anticipated outbreaks that may occur in the coming weeks from students traveling, which is something that I have no control over. 

The reasonable part of me wants everyone to stay safe so that we don’t have to shut everything down again. But another part of me is sick and tired of wearing masks and the anxiety that comes with the possibility of getting infected. It’s understandable to want to have fun with friends and forget that COVID exists. That’s the current moral dilemma that has become prominent as COVID numbers have ceased. 

I know some people aren’t as worried about COVID anymore, especially with the amount  of people who are vaccinated. In the United States alone, 67.1 percent of citizens are fully vaccinated. I just worry that we will take this little bit of freedom for granted and have to pay for it later. For the university, I’m honestly not sure if I’m excited about the mask mandate getting lifted soon. It will be like the first day of school all over again, only this time we will actually be able to see people’s faces instead of just their eyes. 

Testing isn’t mandatory, as it is stated in the March 17 email IWU sent to students, “We recommend testing for any Titans who may have been exposed to the virus (which includes those who have attended any large group gatherings over break).” But if we truly want to go mask optional we will need to keep our COVID numbers low. That will mean wearing masks and keeping a distance from others in the interactions post spring break and keeping social circles small. I know most people avoid getting tested, but you don’t want to be the person  that gets their entire class sick just because you refused to get a fancy Q-tip up your nose. That’s just selfish, especially if you are on a sports team or friends with people that are in season. It’s even worse if the person that sits next to you in class is immunocompromised and you still decide to not get tested because you’re nervous that it will be positive. Now is a time to be selfless.

 If we continue to be preventative of COVID, then I think going mask optional could be a step in the right direction. My hesitation is that people tend to act selfishly, especially when it comes to their freetime. Those that stayed home with their families did their part compared to those that carelessly partied all of spring break. I strongly urge you to use this newfound freedom with caution so that we can keep it. If not, then masks will most certainly be here to stay.

 Going into summer I’d prefer to have a season that is as normal as it can be, especially with the various concerts scheduled to occur throughout the coming months. Let’s all agree to do our best to not be reluctant to test so that we can keep numbers low and potentially indulge in the freedom of a mask-free campus.