After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time for Georgetown to move towards its next stage.
On March 11, University Provost Robert Groves announced in an email to faculty and students that Georgetown would shift to a mask-optional policy beginning March 21. The announcement marked a dramatic shift from the mask policy the university had employed up until this point.
It is certainly time to ditch the mask mandate. Everyone should be allowed to do what they feel is best for their health.
As of May 26, 2021, a New York Times survey reported approximately 100 deaths among college students and faculty nationwide from at least 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, an approximate mortality rate of 0.0143%. According to the CDC, the 2018 flu death rate for people aged 18-49 — an age bracket that includes most college students and many faculty members — was 0.0165% and the mortality rate for those aged 50 and over — which covers remaining faculty members — was 0.29%. For healthy college students, COVID-19 is no deadlier than the flu. For faculty and community members, COVID-19 is slightly more deadly, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be protected.
Professors can request classrooms where they are able to remain distanced from students. Community members can still protect themselves by wearing a mask, as they provide protection even when no one else wears one. As for students, the death rate is likely lower than the figure in the survey since the survey attributes most deaths to older adults. The majority of Georgetown community members will be just fine if they get COVID-19, thus wearing a mask should be an individual choice.
The keyword that might be singled out here is “majority.” Yes, there are immunocompromised students and faculty, as well as others in the Georgetown community. It is important to remember that having three COVID-19 vaccine doses prevents at least 90 percent of hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 — and potentially even more depending on the variant — while only 10% of immunocompromised people hospitalized due to COVID-19 have had three shots.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 could be around forever in some endemic form. If we wait for the eradication of COVID-19 to eliminate masks, it is likely we will never stop waiting. We must be able to live our lives in a more free and enjoyable manner. Those who still have concerns may continue to wear masks. Again, they can still provide protection even when worn around maskless people. At this stage of the pandemic, everyone should ultimately be responsible for their own health.
One of the best ways to take responsibility for your health is to improve your immune system by exercising. Strong immune systems can mitigate any negative effects of diseases like COVID-19. But, as the WHO claims, wearing a mask while exercising can make exercising more difficult since masks can reduce breathing capacity. Masks have been required in Yates Field House since its reopening last summer, and university workers have been hired to enforce this mask policy.
While the “blue shirts” were employed to ensure compliance with the university’s rules, their enforcement had a considerable effect on students’ ability to exercise. Jeff Palmer, fitness manager at the University of Washington, claims that if one wears a mask while exercising, it should be removed if it makes breathing difficult by trapping warmer air, just momentarily to catch one’s breath. If nowhere else on campus, it’s at least beyond time to ditch the requirement for masking in Yates.
Not only is it time to ditch the mandate, both since COVID-19 is not that dangerous for the majority of people at Georgetown and masking while exercising can be harmful, it’s also imperative that students respect each other’s decisions, whether it be continuing to wear a mask indoors or opting not to. I have seen both sides of this debate criticise the other’s actions. People that have been against the mandate have made fun of others for wearing masks even when alone and outdoors. Much worse, I have seen people in group chats being singled out and called stupid for being against the mask mandate, even when the science shows that they may have had a point. Regardless of whether one continues to wear a mask or not, it is imperative that we respect the privacy and decision-making processes of other people.
In the coming weeks we must act like adults, allowing everyone to do what they believe is best for their health without being ridiculed.
Liam Jodrey is a sophomore in the College.