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Removal of in-school mask mandate provokes mixed community response

Updated: May 18, 2022

While some are excited about the new opportunities that the removal of the mask mandate brings, others, including physicians, are still approaching the situation with caution.

While writing this article, I was able to show the varied points of view in my community. The pandemic has been an important issue for me and my peers since it started, and it was interesting to learn about more points of view.

California’s mask mandate in schools is being removed in less than two weeks. But what will this mean for Carlmont’s students and staff?

According to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent press release from Feb. 28, California, Oregon, and Washington are reducing the mask mandate in schools and child care facilities to a recommendation after March 11. However, masks are still mandatory in “high transmission settings like public transit, emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities,” according to Newsom’s release.

While the release may have provided relief for many, some Carlmont students are reluctant to accept the new changes.

“It doesn’t seem like the pandemic has completely stopped.” — Olivia Sam

“It makes me a little bit uncomfortable because I prefer to wear a mask, and I prefer that other people wear [them] because it makes me feel safer,” said Olivia Sam, a junior at Carlmont.

While she admits that the state had discussed with more experts and done more thinking on the issue than she had, Sam remains unsure of the situation.

“There’s someone in my family who’s immunocompromised, so I don’t want to expose them to [COVID-19],” Sam said. “It doesn’t seem like the pandemic has completely stopped.”

However, even in the current situation, Sam has observed a split in Carlmont’s population when it comes to using masks and practicing COVID-19 safety measures.

“[I think] it’s going to be split because there are a lot of people I’ve seen around that don’t wear [masks,] even indoors, but a lot of people that I know personally are going to keep wearing [them],” Sam said.

But while Sam may prefer to keep wearing her mask for medical reasons, others, like Carlmont teacher James Bohac, are looking forward to the removal of the mandate to bridge the communication gap.

“I have a hard time hearing people speaking through the masks, and I think the opportunity for people to go maskless will help the classroom in terms of allowing people to communicate more effectively, so I’m excited about that aspect,” Bohac said.

While Bohac does, of course, see the need for some to use masks for protective purposes, he also referred to the changing nature of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.

“I’m not as concerned as I would have been two years ago,” Bohac said. “I believe that the virus has naturally degraded in its lethality… It’s a much less lethal disease now, especially with omicron.”

However, medical professionals are still approaching the situation cautiously, according to emergency physician Dr. Sunil Bhopale, MD, FACEP.

“I think the physicians, by large, are wary of dropping the mask mandate,” Bhopale said. “The reason being is that we are still worried about vulnerable populations, especially the elderly.”

Nevertheless, according to Bhopale, things are improving. Though there were many deaths at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago, vaccines have drastically slowed them down, especially in San Mateo County, where the vaccination rate is relatively high.

“I think the opportunity for people to go maskless will help the classroom in terms of allowing people to communicate more effectively.” — James Bohac

“We’re in that transition point as we move from a pandemic, where this virus can just spread without any restriction, to now more endemic, where it’s becoming part of the normal background of viruses that we all get exposed to,” Bhopale said.

While the mask mandate’s removal may contribute to a higher amount of cases than usual, the less severe nature of the virus may contribute to less strain on the hospital system, which, according to Bhopale, would be very beneficial. Throughout the pandemic, periodic spikes have occurred every four to five months, marked by the discovery of new variants, such as the delta or omicron variants.

“If we let things open up, and there isn’t a spike, that to me is going to be reassuring that we’re definitely on the improving side of this pandemic, and we’re finally getting ahead of it,” Bhopale said.

Removing the use of masks in schools is one thing, but eradicating all COVID-19 measures is another. Many efforts are keeping us safe outside of our masks, multiple of which should be preserved, according to Bhopale.

“[It would be good to] have, for example, good ventilation or keeping the windows open,” Bhopale said. “Keeping students physically separated as much as possible would [also] be a good idea.”

He explains that, after March 11, using a mask will become a personal choice. While some students may choose to continue using masks due to concerns over their safety or the safety of their loved ones, others might finally have the opportunity to end struggles with socializing.

“At this point, I think it’s going to be an individual decision.” — Dr. Sunil Bhopale

“For some students, the lack of being able to express themselves with their faces in addition to their voice has been a real challenge, and it’s led to problems with communication,” Bhopale said. “A significant amount of communication, in general, is nonverbal, so it’s difficult to make that out when someone’s wearing a mask.”

Many who have had trouble communicating with others, expressing their emotions, or making friends, may rejoice at this opportunity. Others, however, may be scared or uncomfortable changing something that has been present for the past two years. For now, nevertheless, one can only anticipate life without the constant use of masks.

“At this point, I think it’s going to be an individual decision,” Bhopale said. “But I suspect if things remain as they are, there’s going to be a lot less masking come fall 2022.”

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