Opinion | Wear your mask, keep your community safe

On July 15, the CDC released a statement regarding vaccinated people. It stated, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing themselves, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

That same day, ETHS released an email stating that “students and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask indoors at school.” 

Yet, two weeks later, with the Delta variant causing a surge in COVID-19 cases,  on July 28, ETHS updated its COVID-19 guidelines in accordance with the CDC. It stated that “All ETHS students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors as we begin the 2021-22 school year.” Less than a week later, Governor JB Pritzker announced a statewide mask mandate in schools.

When ETHS originally moved to allow fully vaccinated individuals to not wear a mask indoors while at school, the general consensus was excitement. For many, the idea of no masks means the COVID-19 must not be a threat anymore, and our “normal” will soon return. 

According to NPR, 47 percent of people in Illinois are fully vaccinated and 61 percent have at least one dose. The rates in Evanston are much higher than the average in Illinois. As of Aug. 5, 85 percent of Evanston residents 12 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 79 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.

In addition to this, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, told NBC News, “If you’re vaccinated, you have a very high degree of protection from all of the variants that we are aware of circulating in the United States.”

When it looked like students would have the option to not wear a mask, junior Edlin Liang wouldn’t have worn one. “I don’t plan on wearing a mask when school starts,” Liang said at the time. “And if I do wear a mask, it’s only in large gatherings because my sister isn’t vaccinated.” 

“The CDC has stated that the vaccine is effective at preventing COVID-19, so I think it’s fine that fully vaccinated people don’t wear masks. Masks should only be mandatory in places like airports, workplaces, local businesses or around high-risk individuals,” Liang explained. 

However, with cases rising due to the Delta variant, the conversation around masking has shifted since the middle of July. Many experts have been advising on a return to wearing masks even if you are vaccinated. 

The public health offices of St. Louis County advised wearing masks indoors due to the sheer prevalence of the Delta variant. After an upsurge in instances, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recommended that everyone should wear a mask indoors.

Delta is the name for the B.1.617.2. variant, a SARS-CoV-2 mutation that originally surfaced in India. The first case was identified in December 2020, and it spread rapidly it soon became a dominant strain of the virus in India and Great Britain. It is considered significantly more contagious than prior mutations of the Coronavirus. 

Just when so many around the world thought they were free from the grasp of quarantine, they were met with another, more contagious strain of COVID-19. 

On July 17, The American Academy of Pediatrics, an American professional association of pediatricians, released updated guidance for schools. It states that all students over 2 years old, along with staff, wear masks, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. This was later backed up by the CDC on July 27, which they released a statement saying that the  “CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.” This was followed by Pritzker’s announcement of a mask mandate on Aug. 4.

“I’m honestly not sure where I stand in the mask debate. For me, it depends on the cases and the prevalence of variants.” Junior Zoe Parker stated in July, “For the first day of school, I plan on wearing my mask as much as I can. I don’t know what the level of interaction is going to be like. It’s going to be terrifying either way though”  

The COVID-19 vaccine evoked a wave of relief. Scrolling through Instagram, a person is met with photos of people holding their Walgreens stickers, text reading in bold vibrant colors “I’m vaccinated!” Having the option to decide on whether or not a person should wear a mask feels rebellious at this point. People spent the whole year wearing masks any time they took a step outside. And the mere thought of returning back to that uncertainty of not knowing what comes next is scary. 

The Delta variant is no small matter. While not wearing a mask in a public setting is more freeing and gradually feels more “normal,” still keep in mind the proper safety precautions. Vaccination and wearing a mask is the best protection against the Delta variant and getting back to some sense of normal.