To Mask or Not to Mask, That Is the Question

For the past year and a half, the students and staff of LHS have been required to wear masks within the school building for all classes and activities. However, some question whether the mask mandate should remain, considering the increased rate of vaccination across the school’s demographic. Currently, by the order of Governor Kathy Hochul, New York State schools require a mask mandate, however, if that requirement were lifted, the decision to remain masked in the Lynbrook schools would be left to the district. 

There are a multitude of benefits to the current mask mandate. The first, and most obvious, benefit is that masks slow the transmission of COVID-19, the reason for the mandate. “The virus spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. Masks block these droplets. Therefore, it reduces everyone’s risk,” explained living environment teacher Jeanette Meszaros. 

Additionally, masks are reducing the transmission of other viruses that are common during the colder months when students are cooped up inside. Nurse Diane O’Brien shared that there have been decreased reported cases of the flu virus and stomach viruses. “The benefit is that we have had very, very few cases and very little spread,” O’Brien said. 

“If not having a mask caused members of the staff or members of the student body to be out for extended periods of time because they were ill, it would be disruptive,” said Principal Joseph Rainis. Meszaros agreed that the mandate helps to keep more kids in school. 

Since there are benefits to the current mandate, what are the risks to removing it? “There will be higher cases of COVID-19 along with other respiratory illnesses such as the flu and common cold. This means missing time in school for both LHS staff and students,” said Meszaros. 

The current rules regarding quarantines are ten days for those who test positive, as well as unvaccinated close contacts. Some unvaccinated students have already quarantined multiple times this school year, even if they were negative for COVID-19. 

“I think there’ll be a lot of emotional issues because we have a lot of students who are still quite fearful of COVID-19, so I think that if the [mask mandate was] lifted, we would have a lot of students who wouldn’t feel comfortable in the school,” shared nurse Cathy Hetrick. A removal of the mask mandate would not only impact students’ physical health, but also their mental and emotional health. 

Another controversial topic is vaccination mandates, whether that be in schools or other institutions. It is unattainable to expect every student and staff member to be fully vaccinated, especially with pre-existing health conditions, religious reasons, or other beliefs, so some believe that a re-implementation of COVID-19 safety measures used last year would be beneficial if the mask mandate were to be lifted, such as plexiglass dividers on desks or one-way hallways. Meszaros shared that these options may be necessary if people are no longer wearing masks. “These procedures would reduce close contact among people in the building,” Meszaro said.

When stores began lifting their mask mandates for vaccinated individuals, some took that as a sign that the pandemic was over, resulting in people letting their guard down. O’Brien and Hetrick agreed that even with dividers and one-way hallways, the removal of the mask mandate would provide a false sense of security. 

“I can’t hear you with your mask on,” and, “You’re going to need to speak up,” are phrases that indicate the major barrier of communication and understanding while wearing masks. Since all students returned to in-person learning this year, it has become clear that teaching and learning with masks is difficult. How would that difficulty change if some students and teachers chose to remove their masks, and others remain masked? 

“Most students are not comfortable wearing masks,” Meszaros said. “It is difficult to breathe in them, and they make communication challenging. So, it may require an explanation to students as to why some students are not wearing them.” She said this issue puts teachers in an “awkward” situation.

The number-one factor that should determine whether the mask mandate remains is efficacy. “We have only experienced school with masks during COVID-19,” Rainis said. “All I know is that our rates of incidents in the building have been pretty small.”

While it is difficult to determine the efficacy of the mask mandates, the masks are performing the task that they are expected to do. “The mask mandate is effective, and the low number of cases in the schools proves it,” Meszaros said. 

If the mask mandate were removed, several problems would arise. Therefore, for the physical and mental wellbeing of all those in LHS, masks should remain.