Literally Life or Death

Masks are more important than ever — not just for yourself


Anna Zheng

Students in the breezeway wear their masks during extended transition.

Anna Zheng, Social Media Editor

“Getting back to normal” is what everyone has been repeating, hearing and hoping for over the past two years. The new mask policy will push our collective hope of “normal” further off into the future.

On March 1, mask-wearing for students will be optional in ACPS due to Governor Youngkin’s signing of State Bill 739. Though masks are no longer required, every student should keep diligently wearing their mask.

Not wearing a mask might appear to restore some sense of normalcy, but the only way to truly return to normal is by facing the real problem: COVID-19. The CDC and WHO continue to recommend mitigation strategies, including wearing masks. While case counts are declining in Albemarle County, the only way to continue that is through the enforcement of masking.

First of all, students who want to minimize their risk of exposure do not have alternative options. With the rise of the Delta variant in the late summer, ACPS virtual school already exceeded its enrollment capacity. While there is technically a wait list, according to ACPS virtual school principal Reed Gillespie there will not be any vacancies this year since original enrollment was greater than anticipated.

Many students do not feel comfortable going to in-person school without mask mandates. Despite their discomfort, their lack of options means that they will be forced to attend school with unmasked peers and have an increased risk of infection. 

If a student does contract COVID, ACPS mitigation policies still require them to be quarantined for 10 days. Along with the immediate challenge of keeping up with classwork, there can also be lasting effects of having COVID. For instance, studies show that COVID-19 survivors are more susceptible to developing mental illnesses, especially at a young age. Why gamble your long-term mental wellness for a bit of comfort now? Why risk that for others? 

Though many argue they do not need masks because they have natural immunity or are vaccinated, it is still possible to be infected. People can contract COVID-19 more than once, and though the effectiveness of the vaccines are high, more must be done. Masks are proven to reduce transmissions and are a necessary addition to keep you safe. 

More importantly, masks are most effective for protecting the people around you if you get sick. A significant portion of people have not been vaccinated, do not have natural immunity or strong enough immune systems to defend themselves. The rate of asymptomatic transmission of Omicron is also higher than that of other variants, even among vaccinated individuals.

While 75% of Albemarle County residents have been fully vaccinated, only 43% have gotten the booster, according to the Blue Ridge Health District. The booster is proven to be the greatest protection against Omicron and other possible variants. 

One group that makes up the 25% of unvaccinated people and 57% without the booster are the immunocompromised, many of which are elderly. They are the most endangered by COVID-19, as their health conditions often make it so that they cannot get the vaccine and nor fight off infections.

The other large group of unvaccinated people are children. Locally, only 41% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, so 59% of the children that make up our elementary and middle schools are unprotected. Additionally, children under 5 years old are ineligible for the vaccine, meaning no one in that age range has the optimal protections. It is likely that they will be ineligible until summertime, which puts them at risk for the next three months.

Think of your baby siblings, your grandparents, your neighbors and your peers. Who do you know is at risk? Are they your friends, who make coming to school everyday bearable? Are they your parents, who work tirelessly and are unrivaled in their care for you? Are they your food servers, who pick up double shifts every night to provide for their children, whose kids could be your own classmates? Are they your doctors and nurses, who put themselves on the front lines and bear witness to the unimaginable losses to COVID-19 every day? They are someone’s best friend, someone’s sibling, someone’s parent or grandparent.

Beyond that, they are a person who deserves — above all else — to live. Each and every member of our community is irreplaceable and precious. Who do we become when we decide their lives are not worth protecting? What do we become when we lose our humanity?

The new state law represents an overt disregard for the health of our community members, young and old. If the state refuses to protect them, it is our responsibility as a community to do so. Let’s show Patriot Pride by being considerate of our community’s health and safety. It’s so easy: just wear a mask.