Whenever I step inside the Villanova Starbucks, I am reminded of one of the big differences between here and my home city of Tacoma, Washington: masking culture.
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, and until public health officials have declared that the spread and severity of COVID-19 is low enough to be considered with the likes of the flu, I will continue to advocate for public masking, even where not required. This is because one can still carry the disease post-vaccination and show no symptoms, and while 95% of Villanovans are vaccinated, not everybody we meet will be fully protected, hence why some groups must get boosters.
Even post-pandemic, I think wearing masks during cold and flu season should become the norm. Some of my fellow students have made the argument that exposure to cold and flu viruses can actually be a good thing because it keeps our immune system “strong and active.” I’m sorry, but what are they talking about?
For most diseases we do this with a vaccine, but the cold and flu mutate incredibly often, resulting in immunity not lasting very long, hence the need for a new flu shot every year.
From March 2020 through the first few weeks of this semester, I did not get sick once, which can certainly be attributed to the masks. And you know what? I don’t think anybody likes getting sick. If wearing a mask in places where there are a lot of sick people prevents me from getting sick, sign me up.
Sickness was certainly sweeping through campus during the first few weeks of this semester (I can certainly recall that there were more people coughing in my classes as the days went by), and it seemed that a lot less people got sick after the mask mandate was implemented.
Many of us usually catch some form of cold during the winter months. However, we still have scholastic and academic obligations where if we take a day or two to stay home and rest it off, we fall tremendously behind. Wearing a mask can solve that problem, as you can still get on with your normal routine and not spread your cold to everybody else.
With the obvious benefits to public health in mind, I feel that masking when one is sick should become commonplace in the US. However, as much as I can hope that this will happen, the realist in me does not believe my fellow Americans will be interested in keeping these things around.
Anti-mask culture in the states has become a huge problem since the beginning of the pandemic, with the issue becoming highly politicized. The topic is no longer one of public health, but one of political alignment. The vitriol with which members of the far-right side of American politics renounce masking spells doom for a universal mask culture sticking around.
People are also fatigued with having to wear masks nearly everywhere, every day for a year and a half, myself included. During the summer of 2020, I can recall that many people were incredibly diligent about wearing their masks correctly, but I am now seeing more and more masks being worn below the nose. Laziness has crept in, and these people are side-stepping the whole reason to wear the masks. I wear pretty thick masks, and you’ll never catch my nose hanging out. If I can breathe and speak well in my mask, you’ll be fine in your thin surgical one. Wearing your mask correctly is really not that difficult.
From what I’ve come to understand, the mask culture in my home state of Washington is unlike many other places in the country, and judging by what I have seen in eastern Pennsylvania, most people have abandoned masking in places where they aren’t required. If this is the case in a politically neutral (relatively) place while COVID-19 still rages, and during cold and flu season, I have little hope that masks will become commonplace in the future.
Regardless of public perception, my collection of masks will certainly not be tucked in the back of a drawer and gather dust for the foreseeable future once COVID-19 is no longer the boogeyman of the world. Will I maybe get some strange looks pulling up to a class or gathering in a mask? Maybe. But I think it is worth it to remain fully functioning when my comrades are down and out, and I hope other people will think so too.