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In the Words of Future, Mask Off

by Serena Thomas

Starting on March 7, Gov. Phil Murphy ended school mask mandates that were set in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). As cases have begun to go down, people are now free to walk maskless once again.

However, Montclair State University is continuing to mandate mask usage on campus regardless of the changes occurring around the state.

Now, as a public health major, I can understand why the university feels the need to continue with these mandates. Even though there is a significant drop in COVID-19 cases, large congregations like universities still need masks to protect their students from spreading the virus. Plus, there are still unvaccinated people who may need to wear masks to protect themselves and their classmates from getting sick.

However, as a college student dealing with a now two-year-long pandemic, it’s exhausting having to cover my face every time I go inside. At this point, COVID-19 seems like it’s here to stay and it’s time we accept that reality. Things may not be the same as they were before 2020, but we should begin falling back into normalcy — which ultimately means a maskless routine of life.

Of course, masks can still be used for protection, but that should be a choice given to the students rather than an order given by the university. I feel that’s the message Murphy was trying to send when he officially ended the mask mandates.

Think of a time when you did something because you wanted to do it, like chores or a new hobby. Now imagine someone like your parent or guardian telling you to do that same thing. It would be much less enjoyable and you may not even want to do it just because you were told to. This idea is related to a theory called Psychological Reactance Theory (PRT).

In summary, it states that people who feel their freedom is being reduced or taken away entirely are more likely to go against those rules and continue risky behavior just to “prove” they still have freedom. When students feel they are being forced to wear masks, they’ll be more likely to not wear masks when officials are looking the other way. However, without impositions, students are more likely to take safety precautions in their own lives and mandate themselves to make smarter health decisions without the university’s involvement.

Please understand that I’m not in any way trying to say we should all just give up masks without caring for anyone else. I just feel mandating masks is the equivalent of yelling at a kid to wear their helmet when they already have the helmet on their head. If someone is already doing the right thing without being told to do it, then why go an extra, unnecessary mile to meet a goal that was already met?

I think it’s safe to say no one wants to get COVID-19. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations already making efforts to spread awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s fair to assume that everyone is doing what they can to avoid contracting it. Whether people believe that COVID-19 is real or not, people are still dying from something and no one wants to follow the same fate.

I remember feeling anxious myself when I first learned people were suddenly dropping dead from a disease that came from Wuhan, China. There’s already so much tension and fear from the events that have occurred from the pandemic, so why make our lives harder by mandating something that seems like common knowledge to anyone else?

Even though I can’t read the future, I can say with some certainty that masks may still stick around for a while after the coronavirus pandemic ends. But I believe it will be something that will stick around without someone telling us it should.

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