Masks are gone, but human decency isn’t

Carly Davis

Last week, I sat in the library without a mask on for the first time in two years. I walked into the third floor, went to the little table tucked in a corner overlooking the Slough (the best spot), and set my (prohibited) mug of tea down while removing my mask. 

I thought it would be this big moment, where fireworks would go off and I’d feel like I could finally be a real person again for the first time in the pandemic. Or I’d immediately be tackled by some hidden secret police set on eliminating anti-maskers. But nothing happened. I annotated my reading, finished the overdue modules the school had been pestering me about and breathed easy. Literally. 

Now, I don’t think wearing a mask is that much of a hassle. I habitually wear a KN95 mask whenever I’m around people out of personal choice, even when off-campus. I’m big on personal accountability and public health measures. 

When the school announced it was dropping its mask mandate in the middle of a Wednesday, effective immediately, I wasn’t happy. I have no issue with people sitting on their own or with friends without a mask on, just hanging out, but I don’t particularly want to get into an elevator with five people breathing down my neck. 

I’ll stop with the breathing puns, I swear, but I do have complicated feelings on Augustana’s new policy. 

On one hand, it has clearly boosted morale. Between students happily seeing their friends again like they did before spring 2020 and the pleasant weather, it’s clear that the campus community is more lively than we’ve seen in a while. 

I’ve enjoyed seeing what some professors actually look like when I pass them in Old Main or in the library. I like not creating a miniature sauna around my mouth and nose when I’m running late to class and have to hustle. 

For over a year, I’ve heard plenty of students lambast the school for restricting personal choice by requiring masks. I personally think that we have a greater obligation towards protecting each other than we do to our comfort, but that’s just me. Maybe I’m just a martyr. 

That said, I am genuinely concerned about the new policy. We have normalized getting COVID so much that students aren’t able to self-isolate if exposed to the virus if they’re vaccinated. Given the reduced efficacy of the vaccines, we should be well-aware that they aren’t perfect. 

And outside of classrooms, plenty of students are in close quarters with each other for long amounts of time. Any cluster of students in the Brew, dorm lounges or the Westerlin gym can now be maskless and susceptible to spread or be exposed to the virus. 

And elevators, my god, elevators. I joked earlier, but it is truly unpleasant to listen to people cough a foot away from me in the elevator. The least they could do is aim into their elbow, but we seem to have forgotten that courtesy after having our faces covered for so long. 

I am not about to start glaring at strangers with their faces out. But I do believe that in exchange for Augie students’ newfound face-freedom, we need to put effort into treating more cautious students well. 

The last thing students should forget from the last two years is that each of us processes the pandemic differently, and one person’s experiences do not override someone else’s. If someone wants to keep their mask on, let them. And out of decency, give them a little room. There’s plenty of air to breathe.