The Face Mask Finale | Liam Rosenberg
*Names of interviewees were changed for this article.
In just two short years, the world leaped from “formal attire requested” to “no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service” – that last clause as a result of the pandemic that left our lives forever changed. A pandemic that, by certain accounts, enslaved the human race to a piece of cloth.
Even as a firm believer in science myself, fully aware of the health benefits of masking up, there were sometimes moments where I mirrored this sentiment. The face mask undoubtedly entered our cultural ethos on that fateful day in March of 2020, and exactly two years later, I bid it a gleeful farewell after the mask mandate was lifted.
I thought many of my peers would do the same, so I was puzzled by the sheer volume of mask-wearers when I returned to school. CCA was known for keeping its COVID infectivity rate considerably lower than the rest of the school district during the height of the pandemic. Regardless, the government seemed to greenlight a maskless existence.
I acquired an almost visceral reaction to the thought of donning a mask for no reason at all – so it seemed instinctual to tear it off. During the first several days of attending school without a mask, I felt naked, staring back at an often completely-masked classroom, which included the teacher.
Friends from other schools caused me to deduce that this experience was atypical elsewhere, and as the weeks went by, I could not find an answer. Was the mask not meant to be a means to an end, I wondered, and hadn’t we reached that end? I elected to gain some insight into this unusual phenomenon from those who still chose to wear masks.
“Personally, I still wear my mask for both my own security and others,” says Adelaide*, a senior at CCA. “Since we had been in the pandemic for so long, wearing the mask had become routine, and I didn’t think twice about wearing it.” This seems to be the universal feeling among mask-wearers: routine.
Adelaide adds that “many people, especially at CCA, continued to wear their mask out of routine and the feeling of security that came from wearing the mask.” It checks out, too, considering the nature of CCA’s block schedule, one that requires students to master the art of routine. CCA students would, therefore, naturally gravitate towards habitual mask-wearing as just another part of their regular cycle.
Talia*, a junior at CCA, voices a different message altogether as to her decision to continue wearing a face mask.
“I wear my mask mainly to keep myself, people, important to me, and everyone around me safe,” she says. “But since overall COVID cases are going down, I think it’s less necessary now.”
That begs the question, though, do students wear masks out in public at the same frequency as in school? It depends on who you ask.
“If I’m in an environment where I’m comfortable to do so, I won’t be as strict about mask-wearing, especially with friends,” says Talia. However, peer pressure seems to be an interesting factor at play at school.
“Fear of judgment from others was likely another factor that played a role in the large number of people who continue to wear a mask at CCA,” asserts Adelaide. This is another quality that most other schools do not have: the sense of communal responsibility to keep one another safe and positive.
Even still, the psychological impact of mask-wearing is essential to note. As a high school student with fond memories of pre-COVID times, it disturbs me to see younger children left socially inept in a maskless world. My nine-year-old sister, who spent most of her formative years during the pandemic, still totes a bright-yellow mask wherever she goes – craving the aforementioned security that it provides.
While the face mask finale grows nearer on the horizon at CCA, society will have to reckon with the long-lasting effects.