Crossfire: Optional masking is reasonable

The state’s mask-optional policy is a step in the right direction

This piece is part of The Highlander’s long-running Crossfire series, which appears in its paper newsmagazine. Crossfire articles advocate for 2 opposing sides on hot-topic issues. The counterargument to this piece argues in favor of Virginia’s optional mask policy.

When people are young, change is normal. The world seems like a totally new place every two years anyway—why not throw a pandemic in the mix? Perhaps this is why high schoolers have taken so easily to wearing masks, and why now that they’re given the option to stop wearing masks, many elect to keep them on.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s ban on mask mandates was obviously politically charged and garnered a fair bit of criticism. While it may not have been the most seamless way to
go about rolling back COVID-19 precautions, optional masking is not unreasonable in any way. In fact, it’s an important step to take towards going back to “normal,” if such a thing exists at this point.

It has been about a month, but so far transmission rates in Fairfax County have not increased since FCPS made masking optional for students and staff on March 1. In fact, the circulation of the virus is nearly as low as it ever has been in the county and in the country: the seven-day average for new cases daily has been under 150 in Fairfax County since late February and has been steadily decreasing throughout the nation, now totalling a seven-day new case average of less than 40,000.
“Our transmission rate currently is low for community transmission in FCPS, and that also includes here at McLean,” Systems of Support Advisor Emily Geary said. “We have seen a significant decrease in cases and level of transmission from prior to December and January.”
By March 14, only three states still have statewide mandates on wearing masks indoors. Between January and February, almost half of state mask mandates were lifted. In the same amount of time, nationwide cases have dropped significantly.
As of March 10, Fairfax County is considered to have low community risk for COVID-19 by the CDC. Based on this assessment, the only preventative measures the CDC recommends people take are to stay updated on vaccines and to get tested when they experience symptoms of infection. According to the experts, the county is in a better position than it has been in a long time to start rolling back preventative measures against COVID-19.
“We have the CDC for this,” math teacher Natalia Gorine said. “The county follows the CDC recommendations, which makes sense to me, because if anyone knows anything about this disease, it’s probably the doctors. I think we should listen to them.”
The country has entered a new stage of the pandemic, marked mainly by mass vaccination. According to the CDC, 65.3% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and 44.3% has had a booster. While variants pose a challenge due to their resistance to vaccines, the medical community’s ability to produce boosters that target variants was proved in the quickly defeated Omicron outbreak in December and January.
Vaccines entering the equation took the edge off of the pandemic. The first two shots were authorized back in May 2021, leading to a low in transmission in June. Variants to the original virus have appeared periodically, but thanks to growing vaccination rates, hospitalizations and deaths have remained relatively low considering how high transmission rates have become at times. As weird as it feels to say after two long years of loss and uncertainty, we have this under control.
If the goal is to get back to pre-pandemic living, removing mask mandates is the best way to go. A lot of people are still wearing their masks. Just because masks are no longer required doesn’t mean that everyone should rip them off as soon as they get the chance. Wearing a mask can be a statement of your
respect for your neighbors. They still work, and Youngkin’s outright ban on mandating them was quite rash and inconsiderate. If there’s one thing the past two years have shown, it’s that the world can change significantly in the space of a few days.
Ultimately, a population that understands what is in its own best interests can make its own decisions. Some kids here at McLean have lost two years of their high school experience to COVID-19. It’s time to slowly and cautiously start moving on.