With almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic under our belts and a new, still uncertain school year starting, one of the biggest questions among parents, administrators, and students alike has been: masks—required or optional?
Beaver Area’s 2021-22 school year started with the decision that mask wearing was up to parent and student discretion, but after an outbreak of the virus on the football team followed quickly by increased infection numbers in the high school and Dutch Ridge Elementary School, that decision has come into question.
It wasn't just Beaver Area that had this outbreak issue either. Shortly after the Beaver Area Athletic Department cancelled the September 3 football game against Central Valley, Hopewell followed suit, cancelling their game against Blackhawk originally scheduled for that same day. September 3 was also made a virtual day in Beaver Area High School after so many students were contact traced and put into quarantine.
Days later, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a mask mandate in all Pennsylvania schools. Now, due to a dramatic increase in positive COVID cases, Beaver Area High School and Dutch Ridge Elementary switched to remote learning for the week of September 13-17.
But are optional masks really the cause of this unfortunate string of events? I think yes.
Last year, when masks were required, COVID outbreaks like this did not happen to this extent. The CDC has shown that wearing a mask helps to protect not only yourself but also those around you from contracting COVID-19—which is especially important given the ease with which the latest COVID variant is spread. The CDC also recommends that you wear a mask while indoors, which you are for pretty much the entire school day.
I also don't understand why this decision of masks or no masks has to be so controversial. If masks have been shown to aid in protection from the virus, why are parents protesting mandated masks for students and staff? Yes, I agree: masks are uncomfortable and won't fully protect you from getting COVID—but they help to suppress transmission, and something sure beats nothing when it comes to COVID prevention.
Yes, there will come a time when we will give up the masks and social distancing and whatnot and live our lives without the threat of COVID looming over our heads, but unfortunately that time isn't now. I will admit I don't like wearing a mask as much as the next person, but I believe that right now with the original and variant strains of COVID-19, masks remain essential to our daily lives and aid in protection from the spread of the coronavirus. Mask-wearing is a small price to pay to ensure our health and the health of those around us.