Only if vaccinated

The question of whether or not we wear masks in school has been a hotly debated issue around the country, with parents piling into Board of Ed meetings to state their opinion. First, let’s distinguish this issue from what it isn’t. This isn’t an issue of our constitutional rights being suppressed when we put a mask on; the issue here is whether or not the benefits of wearing masks in school outweighs the drawbacks. Masks should be made optional in schools for those who are vaccinated as the negatives of wearing masks outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

CDC data suggests that the vaccine is not only effective, but our best form of protection against COVID. In children ages 12-17, you are nine times as likely to get COVID if you are unvaccinated as someone who is vaccinated. Students in this age group are also least likely to get it, due to the virus primarily being diagnosed in elderly people. Anecdotally, I can almost guarantee that if the school made masks optional for vaccinated students, the percent of students vaccinated would shoot up if the school validated vaccine cards. There will be a fear of missing out among students, as they’ll see their friends walking through the halls with no mask and want that same feeling. 

Before the announcement that children aged 5-11 could get the Pfizer vaccine, this argument would hold far less water. However, now essentially everyone is eligible to get the vaccine so there are really no excuses not to be vaccinated (unless it conflicts with a health condition, of course). This means there is less of a risk of children ages 5-11 taking COVID home with them and spreading it. 

State and local government officials  will respond to this argument that this is an extra layer of precaution to protect students. Masks do pose problems to students that we could partially alleviate with an optional policy. Masks are at times distracting, with students playing with them, and while being in person is great, having real face-to-face interactions in school is even better now.Students go to high school partially to learn to adjust to a new social situation, and masks guard the face, preventing an open environment. In addition, for students with pre-existing conditions, masks can harm them, since it may limit an already limited flow of air or create other challenges.

The school cannot do anything right now, as the mask mandate in schools lasts until at least Jan. 11, but if transmission rates are low, it could be lifted and up to school districts to decide. If this does happen, I propose this policy. It reaches a healthy medium of no-mask and masking, and offers almost any student a fair way out of wearing a mask. If students still want to mask up, especially in the winter to prevent catching a cold, it’s their prerogative. I believe that unmasking our vaccinated individuals is the best step forward, as it forms the best middle ground on the pandemic possible.

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