To Mask or not to Mask?

Following the lifting of the mask mandate, Stuyvesant has seen little change—but why?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As of March 7, 2022, face coverings are optional in all NYC public school facilities. For the first time in nearly two years, students are not required to don a mask in school buildings. But despite the removal of the mask mandate, Stuyvesant has not seen an extensive change in student behavior, with few students taking their masks off. In the days that followed the first mask-optional day, there was a small, gradual increase in the maskless population, but most kept their faces covered. Still, it has been a confusing intermediary period in which we all struggle with our own decisions, recoil in shock at our friends’ face reveals, and silently judge, or are judged by, faceless strangers in the halls.

The decision to continue to wear a mask is a personal one and depends on individual risk factors. Most children and teenagers are unlikely to develop severe symptoms from COVID-19, especially if they’re healthy and have been vaccinated. However, those who are immunocompromised or unvaccinated may want to continue wearing a mask and socially distancing themselves. Many experts suggest that not enough children are vaccinated in order for the mask mandate to be ending. Others cite the declining case rates and hospitalizations as adequate criteria for lifting the mandate.

The Spectator conducted a school-wide survey to gauge why students still wear masks. According to the survey, only 13 percent of students chose not to wear a mask, with most students continuing to keep their mask on for a variety of reasons.

The survey found that almost 60 percent of students cited health concerns as a reason for continued masking. The most surprising finding of the Spectator’s survey, however, was that more than half of mask-wearers do so at least partially for self-conscious reasons. Some written responses in the survey detail how students find solace in hiding their faces: “I feel like I look so ugly without my mask on.”

Another common worry beyond aesthetic judgment is character judgment. Over forty percent of submissions cited social pressure as a factor in their decision, worrying that they would be viewed as callous, inconsiderate, or politically conservative. Many fear the silent appraisal of the masses, or as one anonymous submission stated, the confrontation of “getting yelled at in the hallway.” Other respondents explained a tactic in which they selectively choose when to mask up based on the number of maskless peers surrounding them. Similarly, some teachers have opted to go maskless while others adhere strictly to the pre-mandate guidelines, automatically prompting their students to do the same.

It is no surprise that these social pressures have been a major factor in students choosing to continue to wear masks. Despite past questions over when we would finally be able to take our masks off, the mask has become an essential accessory to privatize our expressions and faces. It seems that in this transitionary period of society, face masks function as a temporary cure for teenage insecurity. Never before has it been part of the status quo to shield one’s facial features, but the advent of COVID has allowed respite from the daily horrors of letting your lab partner analyze your nose and mouth.

Even with the uncertainty, it’s always important to be conscious of the circumstances of those who advocate for mask-wearing and to be considerate of others’ requests to determine their own health and safety. For those who understandably remain concerned, Stuyvesant prioritizes strategies to keep the building safe, such as frequent testing and ventilation, which, in addition to the lowering cases, makes Stuyvesant safer now than it has been all year. The strategies help to keep the cases down while preventing stigmatization and social divide, and perhaps will help you ease into the comfort of loosening your mask.

The mask decision is not a simple one, and it’s easy to be influenced by others when making a choice. Social pressure limits freedom to choose. Yes, you are perfectly allowed to thrust your bare face into the Stuyvesant air or you can choose not to. If this limbo stage is the new normal, choose for yourself, not for others—whether your health concerns or wanting to return to normalcy determines if you wear a mask.