Mask mandate is here to stay

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Ellie Ouano

Seniors Tommy Hauk (left) and Patrick O’Brien (right) help each other out during working time on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.

Lila Shields and Maggie Haven

The Algonquin mask mandate is set to stay in place due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, and further restrictions are being added to maintain health and safety, despite the negative impacts they may have in the learning environment. 

There were hopes before winter break for the mask mandate to be lifted in the near future because there were relatively few cases and ARHS has exceeded the state mandated 80% vaccination rate requirement. However, further data and a rise in cases have reinforced the need for masks in order for students and staff to remain safe. 

District Wellness Coordinator Mary Ellen Duggan has been actively observing COVID-19 data and doing what she can to protect the school community. She advises students to take more precautions.

“Everyone needs to act like everyone around them is positive [for COVID-19],” Duggan said. 

Even with the school’s 88% vaccination rate, 151 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 between Dec. 23, 2021 and Jan. 3, 2022. Duggan said the future of the mask mandate is hard to predict due to the unpredictable nature of COVID-19. 

Wearing masks, sanitizing and understanding the consequences of actions in and out of school is important to keep in mind during the pandemic, Duggan says. She is hopeful that masking and social distancing restrictions will be lessened in the future. 

“We would have to be at the point where [lifting the mask mandate] would be safe for everybody, whether you’re vaccinated or not,” Duggan said. 

She stresses that it is crucial for students and teachers to stay home if they have symptoms, in order to protect themselves and other community members. 

“If we get to the point where we can remove masks, we will be at a point where we will be allowed to do group work, and we won’t go backwards,” Duggan said.

Principal Sean Bevan has been working on what the school can do to move forward, but also how to maintain the students’ and staff’s safety.

“Some don’t see the masks as that difficult or restrictive,” Bevan said via email. “Others have a much harder time, either physically or on principle, or both.”

I think if we wait, [lifting the mask mandate] would be great, but I don’t think we can do it right now.”

— Lindsey Stone

Senior Class President and recently elected non-voting student School Committee member Lindsey Stone has experienced the struggles of masks and restrictions in the learning environment, but she agrees that safety precautions are extremely important with the rise of COVID-19 cases.

“I think if we wait, [lifting the mask mandate] would be great, but I don’t think we can do it right now,” Stone said. “[The Omicron variant] is more scary, and it’s going to be more of an annoyance to the students if we’re going to have to put [masks] back on.” 

As a student, Stone has seen several different views and opinions on masks, which seem to vary between each student.

“A lot of kids, right away when you first ask them, are going to say, ‘I want [masks] off,’ but then the minute they get knowledge of [the dangers of COVID-19]… and think about it more, they’re like, ‘Well, probably not,’” Stone said.

Junior Class President Cyan Zhang is one of the many students who is irritated with having to wear a mask for six hours a day, though he still wants to maintain his and his peers’ safety.

¨[COVID-19] has been going on for so long; it’s uncomfortable wearing a mask for a long period of time,¨ Zhang said. 

Not only is COVID-19 keeping the masks on, but it is also adding the stress of missing school and having loads of schoolwork to catch up on. 

Biology teacher Elisa Drake is concerned that lifting the mask mandate could lead to increased student and teacher absences.

“[To make any further changes] we would have to know that the virus was going to be mild for people,” Drake said. “I think we would have to have people be accepting and comfortable with the possibility of getting sick… I think you’d also need to see that the quarantine time would be down to almost none. Because if people are going to be getting sick when the mask mandate is lifted, and they have to be out of school, that disrupts the learning environment right there, if you’re taking out teachers and students for long periods of time.” 

Drake said that teaching, communicating and learning have been difficult with masks and restrictions, making it hard to interpret others’ reactions and taking some of the fun out of her classes. But she also stresses that safety is the number one priority in her classroom. 

Though removing masks would help return the learning environment to “normal,” Drake said, the unpredictability of COVID-19 makes it difficult to estimate when that can happen. 

Stone believes the mask mandate could be lifted earlier if students wear their masks correctly while they are required to do so.

“I think it’s all your own decisions, like keeping your mask on,” Stone said. “You know what you’re doing, and you’re mostly in control of your protection and health.”