Opinion: College mask mandate keeps community and campus safe, if enforced

Note: intended for release on September 24, 2021 but was missed during publication

A collective groan is heard on Hastings College campus on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 16. A little past 8 a.m., Dr. Annette Vargas, recently appointed Vice President for Student Access, Enrollment, and Performance, sent an email to campus announcing that despite campus being in the green according to the Guideline Matrix, the COVID Planning Team has decided that the indoor mask requirement will be extended until Oct. 22.

Is it really a requirement though? It depends on who your professor is. Some are quick to call out students who aren’t wearing their masks correctly (correctly being over the mouth and nose). On the other hand, there are some who don’t seem to care as much, so long as you have a mask close to your face. There are some students who are allowed to sit through their whole class with their masks pulled down under their chin, making it totally useless in protecting others and themselves from contracting COVID-19. 

In the rush to get “back to normal”, I feel like the seriousness of the pandemic has been forgotten. So here are the facts. It was reported by NBC News on September 20 that the amount of people that have died from COVID-19 in the US is quickly going to match the number of people who died in the 1918-19 flu (otherwise known as the Spanish Flu). By January 1st, it is predicted that 100,000 more Americans will die, bringing the total to 776,000. 

Closer to home, according to the Omaha World Herald, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that Nebraska is bringing back the “COVID-19 dashboard”. This online information source will make it easier to see local outbreaks and be ready to address them. However, it is still difficult to transfer patients to different hospitals and testing sites are sparse in some areas of the state. 

On a more local level, Dr. Vargas states in her email that the transmission rate in Hastings and Adams county is high. By continuing to wear masks indoors, the HC community can make the effort to minimize the spread of sickness while avoiding capacity and operation restrictions. 

What’s the point of calling this a requirement when it’s not enforced like one? There are people on campus who are immunocompromised and they have to take extra steps to protect themselves because other people won’t do the bare minimum, wearing a mask over their mouth and nose for an hour and a half.