To mask or not to mask? Remaining mask-wearing students share their thoughts

By Maddie Khaw, Assistant News Editor

Since Emerson relaxed its COVID-19 policies and removed its campus-wide mask mandate last May, the faces of many or most students have gone unmasked in classrooms, on sets, and in other campus spaces.

This widespread departure from masking practices reflects national trends; according to an Ipsos poll released in December, half of Americans have returned to pre-COVID routines. A majority of people—across the country and at Emerson—have stopped wearing masks as they go about their daily lives. 

But across the country and at Emerson, that masks the whole story.

The same Ipsos poll found that a third of Americans report wearing a mask some or all of the time when leaving home. Further, of the people who say they still wear a mask at all times, sometimes, or occasionally, nearly one in five report worrying about how others view them because of their mask.

Junior visual and media arts major Theo Camara said they wear a mask “basically everywhere” and “all the time.”

I am typically the only person in my class that wears it,” Camara said. Some students don masks if they contract a cold or other illness, which Camara appreciates, but other than that, “[they] literally only know, like, four other people that wear masks during class.”

Camara said they mostly choose to mask up to prevent illness, but it has also become a habit. In their hometown on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, masking was common even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If anyone was feeling a little bit sick, they would just wear a mask to school,” Camara said.

Senior writing, literature, and publishing major Jinah Yoon said this practice should be the default. 

Like Camara, Yoon also wears a mask regularly, “every time I step out the front door,” she said. “Personally, I think if you’re feeling sick, you should wear a mask.”

When Yoon transferred to Emerson at the start of last fall semester, she said she felt uncomfortable with how few people she saw wearing masks, regardless of whether they were symptomatic.

Now, Yoon said that even though her level of concern around COVID-19 hasn’t lessened, she’s grown accustomed to being surrounded by many unmasked peers.  

“I’ve just gotten used to it,” Yoon said. “I wouldn’t say I’m particularly comfortable, but I’ve just come to expect people not to wear masks.”

Emerson Wellness Center Associate Director Christina Paris said in an email statement that anyone should feel free to wear a mask in any setting.

“It is important to respect the individual choices our community members make regarding personal health decisions,” Paris said. “Additionally, individuals who are in isolation or are experiencing symptoms should wear a mask around others.”

This guidance follows CDC recommendations, which advise that people with symptoms, a positive test, or COVID-19 exposure should wear a mask or respirator in public spaces.

Emerson College currently does not believe that masking is necessary in all campus spaces due to the high immunization rates we have and the current state of the pandemic,” Paris said. “However, masking is important for those who are isolated or experiencing symptoms due to COVID-19. The college encourages anyone who wants to mask to do so.”  

Junior interdisciplinary studies major Sage Greenwood said there are many reasons they continue to mask. For one, their “perpetually bad health,” they said.

“It was really difficult when I did catch COVID,” they said. “I was in a lot of pain. I was having breathing problems—stuff like that—so I don’t want to catch COVID again.”

Moreover, Greenwood’s mother, who they frequently travel home to visit, is immunocompromised, so they don’t want to risk infecting her. 

“Protecting other people is also really important,” Greenwood said. “And [masking] also doesn’t just protect from COVID—it protects from the cold, the flu, all these other kinds of illnesses.”

Greenwood also said that wearing a mask has become second nature. And it has benefits besides just preventing illness, Greenwood said, like keeping their face warm or hiding their facial expressions.

“It’s like my keys or my wallet—I bring it everywhere I go,” Greenwood said. “I’m just so used to wearing it … I don’t know if I’m going to stop. It’s a hygiene thing, illness thing, and all of these other factors.”

Like Yoon, Greenwood feels that people should wear masks if they are sick or have had a COVID-19 exposure. 

“Back when the mandate was first repealed, I was irritated by everyone who wasn’t wearing a mask,” Greenwood said. 

Now, Greenwood said they are stressed by those who remain unmasked despite displaying symptoms. 

“It doesn’t stress me out as much as it did before, but there are even some places with people who aren’t sick, like crowded spaces on public transportation, [that] I would prefer people [to wear a] mask there,” they said. “Unless you’re having problems wearing a mask for health reasons, why not? Is it that much of an inconvenience? I don’t find it to be, personally.”

Greenwood noted how in some countries, including certain parts of Asia, people commonly wore masks in public spaces even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Greenwood said they wished a similar pattern could be adopted in the U.S., while acknowledging that the hope is “not really realistic.”

“A lot of people, when mask mandates were first instituted, were like, ‘I’m not going to [wear a mask] to protect someone else,’” Greenwood said. “But I wish we could have that compassion for other people and take that measure, even if it doesn’t really affect us, but will protect other people.”