This previously ran in our September 2021 print issue.
You put socks on before sneakers, button your jeans after pulling them up, and your mask goes over your nose.
Walking through the halls of Emmaus High School, it is evident that many students struggle with the simple, unsophisticated concept of wearing a mask correctly. It can be guaranteed that when entering any classroom, at least one student will be seen with their mask below their nose, under their mouth, or in extreme cases, not wearing one at all. With the Delta variant running rampant and high COVID-19 transmission rates in Lehigh County, protecting yourself and others is more important than ever. School can’t remain open if students can’t make smart choices and act with base-level sympathy for those around them.
Emmaus High School Principal, Dr. Kate Kieres, says “I honestly believe that the vast, vast, vast majority of our staff and students are conscientious about wearing masks,” and that, “even if they don’t agree with the policy, they respect the fact that the policy is in place.” As for why it’s important to mask in schools, Kieres says that they “remain one of the most useful mitigation strategies that we have.”
The CDC says that “masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth,” which prevents the spread of the virus. Direction from the CDC proves to not be enough, which becomes painfully clear when viewing the amount of Emmaus High School students who refuse to comply.
Many seem to take the instructions to mask up loosely, with masks below their noses and a growing sense of pride in their act of endangerment, students walk around with puffed-up chests and masks down. Seeing someone’s smile as they walk down the hallway is no longer a sign of friendliness, but a clear signal that they don’t care enough to pull their mask up and protect their classmates.
Although it is mandated that students and staff members wear masks, exemptions to this rule do exist. These are based on disability status, and in order to receive one, there has to be communication between the school and a student’s medical provider. Dr. Kieres says that when it comes to mask exemptions “probably 1% of our population,” has one and that “it’s a very, very small number.” Without a proper exemption, there is no excuse for incorrectly wearing a mask within the school building.
With a student population of 2,541, every single one of those Emmaus High School students has a responsibility, as a part of the school community, to think of how their actions affect the people around them.
Sophomore Clare Sheehan describes her peers’ who decide to ignore the rules the district has put in place as “selfish” and says that “people should just know by now how to properly wear their masks.”
“There is enough research to support that when people are properly masked and in proximity to each other, it significantly reduces the likelihood that they’re going to contract COVID,” says Dr. Kieres. Wearing a mask incorrectly decreases its effectiveness, resulting in possibly harmful outcomes. Keeping a piece of cloth over your mouth and nose is much easier than trying to breathe on a ventilator.
Nadia Valero, a junior at Emmaus, believes that when it comes to correcting improper mask-wearing it is “everyone’s responsibility.” She urges her peers to “think of other people and not just yourself.”
When it comes to COVID, the actions of others affect more than just the individual. If students want to have some semblance of a normal school year, proper masking is key. Simply having a mask sitting under your mouth is not enough.