To Mask or Not to Mask?

A loud ring echoes throughout the empty hallway as the silence slowly breaks out into chatter.  Students fill up the hallway, rushing through the traffic as they try to get to class.  The majority of students and faculty walking through the hallways have the lower half of their face covered with a fabric that is held up by two elastic cords hanging on both ears, while a few walk past exposing their full face.

New York City’s mask mandate has recently been lifted after Mayor Eric Adams announced on March 4 that wearing masks would be optional for students attending New York City public schools beginning on March 7 due to the decreased number of COVID-19 cases.

Masks have become a staple in our lives since March, 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began.  Wearing masks has become second nature as we have been advised and accustomed to wearing these masks wherever we go.

“I’m not ready yet,” mathematics teacher Ms. Pinkhasova said.  “We’ve been conditioned to believe that masks are a form of protection for others and yourself for about 2 years. It will take time to undo that logic. When I have my mask off, I now feel a sense of vulnerability and fear.”

Now with New York City’s focus on getting back to normal, this leaves some students and faculty members conflicted as to whether or not they will keep wearing a mask at Francis Lewis High School.  

“I don’t think it’s too early to not wear a mask because if you can see the data, it’s (COVID-19) really going down,” geometry teacher Ms. Palisoc said. “But there are still students, adults, and young people that are getting COVID-19. For example, I have one this week. So, there are still students getting it, but not like before.”

Despite the lifting of the mask mandate, several students feel that external factors influence their cautiousness. 

“I feel safer with my mask on because I think I am getting paranoid by thinking about the amount of germs that can spread without masks,” freshman Becky Chen said. “I think that is because I heard many stories about COVID-19 spreading really fast during quarantine, and it makes me anxious.”

Sophomore Alecia Larussa agrees with Chen’s sentiments. 

“I felt kind of iffy about it,” sophomore Alecia Larussa said. “I want to take it off but I also feel like the school is so overcrowded that you shouldn’t.” 

A trailer class after the mask mandate has been lifted shows that most kids still masked up. (Zoe Ntouvas and Tiffany Do)

Researchers had found that in February, 2022, 60% of the nation’s school districts had required masks to be worn. As of March 2022, only 6% of schools have a mask requirement. 

“Honestly, I am quite relieved because I don’t have to wear this mask anymore even though it is a necessity,” freshman Shawn Dong said. “It’s nice to have it on sometimes like in a crowded area and off in the classroom when there is a limited amount of people.”

According to the NY Times, many people believe that now that the mask mandate has been lifted in New York City public schools it will “restore a sense of normalcy in the city.”

“I was happy,” physical education teacher Mr. Block said. “On one end it’s a little nerve-wracking when there are so many people inside the building but on the other end, it feels like everything is starting to get back to normal without masks.”

Ms. Palisoc discussed how she prioritizes her safety due to her circumstances as a freshman and sophomore teacher at Francis Lewis. Currently, the number of students and faculty in the building has been reduced by 30% due to the extended school schedules. 

“For me, you see I’m still wearing my mask and I’m planning on wearing my mask until I feel that it’s safe for me to take off my mask, especially since I’m a teacher,” Ms. Palisoc said. “I’m teaching 150 students everyday, and we have a lot of kids in the hallway so I’m trying to be careful about that. So for me, I feel safe when I’m wearing my mask but again, it depends on the person’s perspective and how they feel about it.” 

Students mostly wearing their masks as they study in the library. (Kristen Jiang)

Some faculty members feel that the connection between students and teachers are lacking when masks are on.  Librarian Ms. Vittiglio said that she doesn’t want to have a “barrier between myself and students.”

“I’m excited about lifting the mask, but I do think that young children or children in general need to see the faces of the adults who they’re supposed to trust and it’s kind of hard to trust or difficult to trust someone if you can’t see their face,” Ms. Vittiglio said. “It’s not like you’re doing it on purpose, like it’s the same thing with me. I feel like we need to have this connection.” 

Before the mask mandate lift there was a decrease in COVID cases and deaths. According to statistics from NYC Health, more than 85% of people have taken at least one dose of the vaccine and 78% are fully vaccinated. Even though COVID cases and deaths have been decreasing over the past few months, science teacher Ms. Song discussed how the virus will react with the mask mandate lift, saying that variations are inevitable.

“There would always be variation, variation of different viruses and we would face many different challenges within the next at least two or three more years,” Ms. Song said. “Now it’s going back up, so by having the mask down I’m afraid we’re going to have a lot of cases surging within a few months. That’s what I’m afraid [of], that’s why I’m not taking my mask off. I think we’d be better off doing that.” 

Students choose to either wear their mask or keep it off while working in the student cafeteria. (Kristen Jiang)

Some students are relieved not to wear a mask during school, especially during gym class. Freshman Yuwei Chi Spring semester schedule consists of gym class three times a week. 

“I don’t feel pressured to wear masks since I know that it’s for my own benefit and that wearing my mask would lower my risk of getting and spreading COVID-19,” Chi said. “However, it is harder to breathe when exercising while wearing masks. It also fogs up my glasses at times and sometimes hurts my ears.” 

In the end, Chi agreed that everyone has their own rationales, and that nothing can be gained from judging one another.  

“I do ultimately feel safer wearing my mask, but I could understand how others may feel uncomfortable and restricted with their masks,” Chi said. “We should be considerate of each other’s opinions while staying safe together.”