Graphic Illustration by Blake Loria
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
Last Tuesday, March 2, Gov. Greg Abbott announced state-wide mandates in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic will be lifted beginning Wednesday, March 10. During a school board meeting Monday, March 8, the board voted making face coverings optional for staff and students beginning April 5.
With masks becoming optional in schools, they will become one more way students can judge each other. Regardless of whether someone chooses to wear a mask or not, it is not okay to judge them.
While many may view the issue of masks as a political one, it is essential to understand people often make their decisions based on facts that are not political. The decision for an individual to wear a mask or not may come from underlying conditions, people they love being at risk or purely out of concern from others. While we are all in the same pandemic, we come from different situations that influence our decisions.
It is ignorant to claim masks do not affect some individuals. While masks do provide protection against the virus, they can affect some people in negative ways. Someone may have asthma or difficulty breathing, and wearing a mask can cause shortness of breath and give them headaches or other symptoms, which make it hard to focus during the school day. Others may have claustrophobia, and wearing a mask just bothers them. Some may have a disability, which may make it extremely difficult to wear a mask. Others may feel it violates their freedom to choose what they want to do with their body, or that it hurts their immune system or limits oxygen intake. Wearing a mask can simply be uncomfortable at times, especially when it is worn for extended periods of time. Whatever the reason, someone not wearing a mask is not a reason to judge them.
Choosing not to wear a mask is okay, and by doing so, someone should not be fearful of being judged.
Texas has seen reduced hospitalizations and decreasing cases over the past several weeks. With the rise of vaccine availability and newfound antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now must work to restore normalcy. The best way to do so is opening Texas 100% and removing state-wide mandates. The virus is still present, however, and if hospitalization rates reach over 15%, action may be taken in the affected county. Until then, we must establish that freedom of allowing others to choose whether to wear a mask or not.
Those who wear a mask may have family members at home who are at risk to the virus. They may have relatives who are sick, and the only way to visit them is if they have worn their mask and social distanced to ensure they will not spread the virus. It may be something as simple as wanting to ensure they can make it to prom, an important ball-game or a family gathering without the risk of being in quarantine. They may know someone who has died from COVID-19, so they know they must do their part to protect as many people as they can.
The explanations are endless, but none of them are reasons to be hurtful. Most people do not wear their masks to make a point, but out of concern for others. It is proven that masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, so if someone wants to wear a mask, let them.
All in all, do not let the optional masks be a reason to make fun of someone or an open door to countless arguments. There is not a right or wrong answer. Each reason listed above could be argued for hours. The fact is masks are now optional, so let everybody choose what makes them feel comfortable. In time, the pandemic will pass and Texas is now taking steps to return to normalcy. Let this be a moment we celebrate, not a moment that brings us further apart.