On March 1, Shepherd University released a campus-wide email stating that the mask policy would no longer be required and masks would be optional for everyone on campus. This followed the decision that Gov. Jim Justice made for the state of West Virginia, stating the same optional policy for masks.
So, this begs the question: was this decision a good idea? The students I interviewed said no.
When asked how they felt about the mask policy becoming optional, Ash Payne said, “I felt a mixture of anger and indifference.” Ash is a junior at Shepherd University, and has spent most of their college life wearing a mask. “Because I kind of prided our university on being more forward thinking, so I was shocked when they complied with this new policy.”
The mask policy being updated in this way gave many students a shock, it wasn’t something many saw coming anytime soon.
This decision was unexpected and many students felt confused about why now was a good idea to make the mask policy optional. “It was just a sudden decision that kind of threw me off. I’m not really sure how to feel.” One student said in relation to their own opinion about this change. This student is a sophomore at Shepherd University who wished to remain anonymous.
Each of the students I interviewed felt like this decision was a bad idea. That there were probably going to be consequences for opting to this policy.
“Covid-19 cases are probably going to go up at Shepherd, which sucks.” Ash Payne says, “It feels like the university is regressing in its thinking. What do we do if we get sick from the students not wearing masks?”
Payne points out that cases could go up in West Virginia now that this policy is being implemented in schools everywhere in the state. “If cases go up, we’ll probably just have to go right back to wearing masks again. It feels pointless to stop now and start again in a couple weeks,” Carter Warhurst adds.
We’re getting to the point after this new policy was implemented that we’d start seeing more Covid-19 cases popping up. It’s been almost three weeks, so this would be the time to see if cases are rising.
“I noticed a lot of students gone the week before Spring break, but I don’t know if that was just the break or if it had anything to do with Covid,” Payne says.
All of the students interviewed noticed the same in their own classes, but the timing makes it hard to correctly identify the reasoning for these absences.
“It could have been a bit of both,” Payne said. “Towards the end of the week, I expected to see less people because of Spring break, but the beginning of the week was strange.”
There will probably be more clear data after the break is over, if students are still not showing up to classes and reporting positive Covid-19 results, there’s an obvious reason for this rise.
A rise in Covid cases is obviously not something the University wants, but this policy does not reflect that.
“I still wear my mask in my classes because there are immunocompromised students at Shepherd, so I want to do everything I can to keep them from getting sick. Also, I personally don’t ever want to experience Covid-19,” Carter Warhurst says.
A rise in cases within the university would mean many students missing classes because they’re sick. As well, it could mean professors getting sick and having to put classes on hold until they feel better.
“It doesn’t make sense to risk getting sick now, after we’ve already been wearing our masks for so long,” Julius Gamber says. With only three weeks before finals week, getting sick would keep many students behind in their classes.
For precaution, masks are ideal. They provide a level of safety against Coronavirus that we don’t have while unmasked. At this point in the pandemic, being safe rather than sorry has seemed to be the better option.
“I wear my mask everywhere for my own safety, I don’t want to get sick and I don’t want to get others sick either,” Payne says.
So, to answer the question: Is this optional mask policy a good or bad thing? From the students I’ve interviewed, the answer seems to be no.
This answer may not line up with the majority of Shepherd students, but from the interviews I gathered, it would be better to have kept the mandatory mask policy. That policy may come back soon anyways, but only time will tell on that.