Opinion | Following COVID protocols is essential after winter break

The week of Dec. 12 was incredibly strenuous for every person at ETHS. After a massive COVID-19 spike, the cancellation of all extracurriculars and a terrifying lockdown that lasted for two-plus hours, ETHS announced an ‘adaptive pause,’ meaning students and staff would spend the rest of the semester in remote learning. This choice was made out of respect for the safety and wellbeing of the ETHS community, but the school will hopefully return to in-person learning after winter break. When that happens, proper mask wearing will be as important as ever to sustain the health of everyone at ETHS.

Before the COVID-19 spike, correct mask wearing in crowded lunchrooms was a concern for many students. For most of the first quarter, there were outdoor options, such as the senior courtyard, available to students who felt uncomfortable eating in crowded indoor cafeterias. However, it was recently announced that all outdoor seating options would be closed indefinitely for the winter. For students, that meant eating in the Hub or one of the four lunchrooms available. While ETHS staff worked very hard to ensure students were taking proper social distancing precautions, it was up to the students to show maturity and responsibility with their masks. This would include only taking masks off between bites of food or sips of water as well as making sure the mask is covering both their nose and mouth. However, many students blatantly ignored the dangers of improper mask wearing during lunch, and the consequences were grave.

Malory Frouin, a sophomore who ate in the senior courtyard during quarter one, expressed their concerns about proper mask wearing during lunch a few weeks before the spike. “I feel like everyone should be way more worried about [COVID-19]. None of us have our masks on, and we continue to talk with our masks off after eating.” 

Incorrect mask wearing or talking without a mask severely increases the risk of transmitting or contracting COVID-19. After the discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa on Dec 1, the CDC released a public recommendation that people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of transmission to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. Perhaps some of the whopping 129 COVID cases reported the week of Dec. 12 could’ve been avoided if students had been more responsible with their mask wearing during lunch.

“Lots of people in the lunchroom are wearing their masks under their nose…and sometimes not even wearing masks,” Xander Mroczek, a freshman who spent his quarter one lunch blocks in the senior courtyard, reflected prior to the severe rise in cases during the week of Dec. 12. This testimony eerily foreshadowed the disastrous weeks to come. 

“[It makes me feel] pretty uncomfortable. … People shouldn’t put anybody else at risk.”

Many of the students who were overlooking mask safety may have felt safe because they were vaccinated against COVID-19. While the vaccine does reduce the risk of getting severely ill from the virus, it does not grant anyone immunity. In fact, the first reported individual to contract the Omicron variant was fully vaccinated, though without a booster shot. While ETHS touts its 93 percent student vaccination rate, many students received their vaccines in late spring and have yet to receive boosters. As vaccine efficacy wanes, the potential for spread increases significantly.

“Most people who get COVID-19 are unvaccinated. However, since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19.” This is according to the official CDC website, which also states that these cases are to be referred to as “vaccine breakthrough infections.” 

When COVID-19 cases began to climb on Dec. 10, many of the students who contracted the virus were vaccine breakthrough cases. This should’ve been a wake up call for those who were conducting themselves irresponsibly regarding COVID, but it, unfortunately, was not. 

Even as cases continued to rise into the next week, many students were still wearing their masks under their noses or chins. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America website, “The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles.” What this means is that by wearing a mask, you’re not only protecting yourself from inhaling potentially dangerous particles; you’re also protecting other people from particles you might unknowingly be breathing out. Wearing a mask incorrectly is not only irresponsible but utterly selfish as well. 

The consequences of the irresponsible actions of many students are now impacting the entire ETHS community. If at the beginning of the spike, people had recognized the severity of the situation and reformed their actions accordingly, it’s possible that not as many people would be affected. The COVID-19 virus never was and never will be something that should be taken lightly, and it’s embarrassing that the spike in cases got to a point where over 100 students were infected. 

The original conclusion paragraph for this article was a reminder that the pandemic is far from over and that as we continue to eat lunch at ETHS we must remain diligent regarding mask wearing. Now that ETHS has gone remote, it is critical to remember that, when we return to in-person learning, masks must be worn correctly. If students don’t take responsibility for their own health by wearing their masks over their noses and mouths, another COVID-19 spike is inevitable.