https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/covid-vaccines-mean-end-quarantine-sight-some-view-doesn-t-ncna1262192
https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/covid-vaccines-mean-end-quarantine-sight-some-view-doesn-t-ncna1262192

Lifting the mask mandate in NYC schools

March 28, 2022

After getting ready to celebrate the upcoming new year, something new was born. Not thinking much of your surroundings, you went along with your celebration that you had planned with friends. Just like any other new year party, you changed and made sure you were dressed in your new outfits. You partied and partied until the countdown to 2020 started. 

Late that night, the news turned on with identifications of some weird, complex, and never heard of disease.  Around this time, Chinese authorities treated dozens of cases of pneumonia. Why? This was the whole mystery. 

No one was expecting this news to affect the world, but it did anyway. After following the news for the next two months, you came to the realization that the now known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)- caused COVID 19, which was seen in your area. In a blink of an eye, stay-at-home orders began.  

You had so many questions that not even healthcare workers could answer. You couldn’t believe the reality you were in. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the future looked uncertain. Challenges arose regarding work, education, sports, etc. when shutdowns happened. Events all seemed to get canceled. 

The adaptations that everyone had to adjust to was concerning. People became restricted to essential activities, and social media and phones were the only vehicles to connect with one another. 

Their “original” lifestyle was modified in ways that they were not expecting it to. Finding ways to cope with challenges was a challenge in itself. The new “normal” not only required others to prioritize other factors in their life, but this included physical characteristics to help stop the spread. 

First was most important- wearing a mask. Covering your face for hours upon hours was excruciating. The throbbing pain of your face needing a break from the mask was a necessity. 

With the many students that were learning in person, the learning process switched over to live sessions from a computer. Only soon was the public aware of how important it was to wear a mask. It became a necessity and was mandated in many places. 

Knowing that there was a great possibility of getting infected was scary and continues to be scary for many in the present day. 

Fast forward to 2022: Eric Adams has lifted the mask mandate in schools. Opinions upon opinions have circulated throughout NYC and conflicted feelings continue to rise. 

In fact, Dr. Bill Johnson says: “If we are going to stop that asymptomatic carrier, we have to have universal precautions.” 

When masks were implemented, cases started decreasing due to the fact that there were safety and precautions taking place. 

The question is, why are the majority of students still wearing their masks in school, and what if feelings of discomfort arise throughout their day when students are in school?  

WHAT ARE iSCHOOLERS OPINIONS?

Through the new and modified lifestyle that others were experiencing, many wanted to go back to their new way of “normal.” Communities lost hope regarding how COVID could progressively get better. 

However, even through this demanding experience, vaccines that were meant to help combat COVID started to unfold.  

As a result, this caused major uncertainty in the public eye. Questions of trustworthiness arose. It was chaotic.

Many questioned: How did they make such a vaccine in such a short period of time? Why were there different types of vaccines if they all claimed the same protection against COVID? 

Healthcare workers were finally providing something the public had wanted for such a long time, but now no one wanted it. Myths about the effects of the vaccine spread through the internet. 

False reports surfaced in the media including many trends, which increased the attention that this particular news had on the public. It had affected the ways that science was trusted. 

Such myths included: how the vaccine can affect women’s fertility, the COVID vaccine was only for those who did not get infected before, researchers rushed the development of the vaccine (safety cannot be trusted), getting the vaccine actually makes you get COVID itself, the side effects of the vaccine are dangerous, the vaccine enters your cells and changes your DNA, the RNA technology used to make the vaccine is new, the vaccine was developed with or contains controversial substances and after having the vaccine for COVID available we can now make other vaccines for diseases like HIV. 

It was a never-ending list of misrepresentations. As a result, this triggered the public’s perception of inaccurate information. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine offers a reliable site considering the different myths that were published on the vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccine is understandably complex in different ways, but the public has to recognize that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines contain messenger RNA, which is made up of nucleic acids. These are usually seen to be found in our cells and instruct them to make protein. The mRNA contained in the vaccine allows cells to produce “spike protein,” which is completely harmless to our bodies.  

Many were skeptical, which was reasonable. Although many were vaccinated against other illnesses, the technologies that the COVID vaccine included the spike protein of the virus itself (formulated as a nanoparticle- cannot cause disease), created panic. 

During these uncertain times, the vaccines were only available to communities of certain ages or health conditions during this time period. These individuals took priority in receiving the vaccine based on the negative effects that they had to undergo when being infected. 

Soon, the eligibility requirements expanded more to communities. Initially, the number’s regarding the amount of people in NYC receiving the vaccine was low. 

The science behind the vaccine continued to expand, and communication was key in encouraging others to partake in the vaccine. The doings of science can naturally take time that result in different scopes of findings, which can lead to conspiracy theories and even falsification. 

Because of the more opportunity to access the vaccine, results of the new technology and reasoned science started to appear. 

As a matter of fact, NYC.GOV: COVID-19: Data provides data on the totals and average weekly rate since COVID vaccinations began: 

This data chart highlights the disparities between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in regard to Covid-related hospitalizations, cases, and deaths. Source: NYC.GOV: COVID-19: Data

The status of hospitalizations, cases, and deaths differ greatly among individuals that were vaccinated versus those who were unvaccinated. Data continued to showcase the rates of COVID being present in areas that did not have vaccines available. 

Among the variability of those who received the vaccine, Algebra 2/Trigonometry teacher Jeff Reeder gives his insights on how comfortable he had felt when receiving the vaccine.

He says, “It is my opinion that there are people that know far better than I do what the correct decision is as far as vaccines and for example, like the CDC or WHO- when organizations like that state that it’s within my best interest to get the vaccine, I automatically comply with that because those are people that have decades and decades of scientific research and experience to back up their decisions, it’s not like a post on Facebook… you know it’s actually being stated by science…I feel like I am a very logical, reasonable person and so when you present reason and logic to me, I’m very likely to respond to that. So, it wasn’t really a choice. Once the CDC came out and said “the vaccine is the best way to protect you and your family against COVID and your friends and things like that”- for me it wasn’t a hard choice. But, I do understand that there are people that have different hesitations like maybe they have an immunocompromised situation or maybe they have a religious thing…” 

With the confidence that Mr. Reeder had in regards to receiving the vaccine, other faculty at the iSchool, including guidance counselor Ms. Colon, felt weird about receiving something in such a short span of time. 

She expresses, “I am not a conspiracy theory person, I believe in science and the good in science, but for some really bizarre, twisted reason I just kind of got freaked out, and then I thought what am I doing- like this is just absurd. I am not an anti-vaxxer, I know that what’s out there has been tested. I think I was worried at first when it came out so fast, but I forgot that there are scientists that are constantly looking at vaccines. This wasn’t like all of a sudden this vaccine came out in a couple of months, this is the 19th strain of COVID. So, I think I went temporarily delirious, … I don’t know, it was weird,  it was very strange that I was feeling that way but it was based on nothing.” 

Many people came to a realization that the vaccines were not something that was doing harm to their bodies. Many had this understanding from the beginning, while others started to understand why this was happening and the positive outcomes that it had. 

However, it is crucial that individuals continue to wear their masks, regardless of their vaccination status. Transmission of the disease continued to be in numbers that healthcare officials were not comfortable with. 

But wasn’t the vaccine something that could protect you from getting COVID? 

Well, yes but no. More yes than no though. Healthcare officials never said that receiving the vaccine would block your chances of being infected with COVID at all. There is still that possibility. Vaccines, however, lower your chance of death and hospitalization.

Outbreaks started to happen and happen. Variants of the COVID-19 infection were severe. In fact, the delta variant was identified in late 2020 that quickly accounted for more than 99% of COVID-19 cases. But what did this mean for the un-vaccinated? Not surprisingly, most people were infected once again. 

Mask mandates became more serious. Individuals were restricted from entering places without a mask and soon, vaccine requirements began. 

This irked many of those who did not believe in wearing a mask or becoming vaccinated. But, that was sort of the point. 

Through these uncertain times, 76% of the NYC population is currently vaccinated. Requirements had to be made and adjusted for those who wanted things to truly go back to normal. 

Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York City, spoke in Times Square and revealed that the city is now ready to move on past COVID-19 restrictions that obstructed the city and economy for the past 2 years. He did not make this decision lightly. 

He claimed that the city had high vaccination rates and low levels of new COVID-19 cases that could potentially lead to death. In his view, it was time to open his city and operate the economy once again.

Now, was this right? 

With this statement being stated, levels of confusion, excitement, anger, and frustration arose. It didn’t make sense to some, but it made complete sense for others. 

iSchool’s students and teachers voiced their opinions regarding the easing of restrictions.

Junior Hanna Kessler-Karp reveals that this is a huge concern for her. She and her mom are high-risk individuals and are immunocompromised. With a weakened immune system, their bodies are unable to fight off viruses or bacteria. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has come in many waves. Others like Kessler-Karp who have difficult situations take COVID very seriously regarding precautions. 

She asserts, “I think certain communities who are being affected by COVID more are being totally ignored and that’s really frustrating because I’m very affected by COVID because I am immunocompromised and I’m at high risk for COVID- I am more likely to get it, and if I do get it, I am more likely to get seriously ill from it and same with my mom… For a lot of people, it was just a bad cold for a couple of days and then it went away and they were totally fine. That’s great- that it was so mild for a lot of people, but for a lot of disabled and chronically ill people, that is not how it is… It’s very scary to go to school and be around people who chose not to wear a mask.”  

In connection to the environment that students are surrounded with, iSchool is known for being a dedicated school in making sure that their students are succeeding and are most importantly comfortable. But what if allowing comfortability in their classrooms is not in their control? 

There are many reasons as to why someone would continue to wear their mask. Hearing those from communities who cannot do anything about their relying health conditions becomes important. 

Everyone’s body is different regarding the ways in which they can and cannot fight such diseases. After taking so many precautions for the past 2 years, it does not make sense for others like Kessler-Karp to be scared into entering their own school building. She emphasizes this and encourages those with no mask to put it on, even though she knows it’s their choice. 

As a result, she will not be taking off her mask due to the nature of her and her mom’s health.  

But that’s not all. English teacher and learning specialist Ms. Vanesa Figueroa continues to wear her mask because her daughter is too young to receive the vaccine yet.

She expresses, “I just feel like the mask is the safer way to go. For 1, I do not want to get sick- even if I am vaccinated and I know I am protected like I still don’t want to get sick because that means I am going to miss out on work. Also, I have a 2 and a half-year-old at home who isn’t eligible to get vaccinated. I also worry about me picking something up and possibly not feeling any symptoms or not even knowing that I have it and then I bring it home to her. It’s a very difficult situation to be in. Due to COVID, there is a lot of uncertainty still and I just think the masks [are] probably just the safest.” 

The young child has no idea what’s going on, so protecting her and who she surrounds herself with is important.

Obviously, life can’t just go on pause, although it had during the beginning of the pandemic. Life continued after stay-at-home orders were lifted. Through this, interactions with others resumed. started with others. The exposure then increases because you just don’t know if you can get infected within seconds which is one of the many factors that make it nerve-wracking. 

Similarly, Junior Alexandra Gonzalez-Soriano has a baby brother at home. She is aware of her surroundings and the environment she is in. To her, she is not necessarily comfortable taking her mask off just yet in school. She expresses that our building is not spacious, although teachers and admin do try their best to keep ventilators and windows open. 

In addition, she states, “Yes, I have a baby brother who cannot get vaccinated, obviously- because of his age. And it’s really scary. Like, if I were to get sick, I would be getting everyone in the house sick. And I mean, it’s just something that I’m not willing to risk, it affects everything from them being able to go to work, being able to get their education, you know, so I would rather keep myself safe and keep everyone else safe as well.”  

She continues to add, “I think a huge part of it is that, you know, it’s not over. And I don’t think like there’s a way of telling when it’s going to be over. Because there isn’t and we can’t just predict that it’s gonna end anytime soon. And I feel like the iSchool, in general, is really good, keeping each other safe and keeping their community safe, which is why people wouldn’t take it off. But I’m sure there are people that do.” 

Soriano’s situation is something that a lot of people are aware of. The majority of students in iSchool have siblings or family members who are not eligible to take the vaccine and get as much protection as they can. This makes their situation difficult. 

The excruciating pain and severity that COVID can bring to adults, especially with heavy health care issues, becomes stressful to think about when a child is involved regarding the risks and symptoms that they may experience at such young ages. 

Being understanding is important through these difficult times as well as respecting others’ preferences and decisions. 

Mr. Reeder is one of the teachers at the iSchool who chose to take his mask off when the mandate had been lifted. He, though, is aware of others’ situations and reasons as to why they choose to have their mask on. Because of this, he asks students for their preferences about being around him without a mask. He always has a mask handy. 

He elaborates on his feelings of removing his mask in the classroom: “So for me, I feel like I don’t personally feel scared anymore. I feel like I’m safe. You know, I’m boosted. I have my vaccine. I try to keep my hands clean as possible. I definitely respect others’ decisions to continue to wear a mask, personally, I don’t associate with anybody that’s immunocompromised. So I’m not really too scared on that front. So for me, personally, I’m really happy to not have to wear it.” 

Many take into consideration the environment that they are being surrounded by when contemplating when to wear their mask. 

Mr. Reeder continues to say, “I think like a place like the subway, where it’s so many people mixed up from all over the place- going all over the place- I think a mask makes so much sense. And you might say, well, what about a school, it’s the same kind of thing. And I also feel like, if you are a person who has someone at home, that they’re worried about something like that, I do think it makes sense… and even for me, like when I’m moving around the room, and I’m more close to students, I feel sometimes, like, if I feel like okay, maybe I’m gonna be working close to students, then I put my mask on just because again, like, there’s still that idea that, like, it’s a very simple thing to do that is very, very effective. You know, if I’m wearing my mask, and I do have COVID, the chance I spread to someone else is diminished greatly by that little thing.” 

It’s a complicated situation that many find themselves in. At the end of the day, it depends on the person and how comfortable they are with wearing their mask around others in particular environments. 

Mr. Reeder is not alone when it comes to the way he is responding to the mask mandate, as there are other teachers and students who might do the same. 

He is an individual who truly feels he is safe and protected from the disease, which is what everyone has wanted since the start of this pandemic. 

Based on the mayor’s decision, it has many individuals in many places regarding comfortability. 

PEOPLE AREN’T JUST WEARING THEIR MASKS, THEY’RE TRAUMATIZED:

But, there is a twist. 

Although the masks have been lifted and people do have the option of taking them off, why are the majority of students and staff still wearing them? 

Is it out of respect? Is it for their safety? But then again, is it because of how they are so cautious of their appearance? 

People will never be “un-traumatized” from what they have had to undergo for the past 2 years. All this to say, if a person is wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, respect should be shown both ways. 

Others need a breather, while others need to feel like they are doing everything that they can to keep themselves protected and safe, which is understandable. 

Masks have become a habit, so it makes sense that people are constantly wearing them on their faces. The attitude that most students have in response to this event happening is one that can be described as “better safe than sorry.” 

In the midst of the pandemic, social media was greatly portrayed. Through the constant usage of phones, standards were raised based on the appearance of others. 

Statistics showed the hardships that many were experiencing were due to trends that were taking place. In accordance with PEOPLE JUDGED TO BE MORE ATTRACTIVE WHEN WEARING A MASK, STUDY FINDS, it states, “The faces, first without masks, were categorized as ‘unattractive, ‘average’ or ‘attractive’ based on their average ratings. Then they were rated again, this time with surgical masks digitally added. With the masks on, attractiveness ratings of the faces improved in statistically significant amounts for both women and men.”

Because of these ratings, it has triggered the ways that adolescents see themselves, which as a result may cause them to become insecure. This is important to take into consideration. 

When having a mask on their face, many teens sought this as a way to escape other opinions about their appearance.

Being mindful of your reactions to people’s looks when they take their masks off is important since this can affect them in ways you never expected. 

Gonzalez-Soriano expresses the ways the mask makes her feel regarding appearance. She recalls a commonly used phrase on the TikTok platform- “face reveal.” 

She says, “Before the pandemic, there was no way of hiding what you look like. But with the pandemic now, a lot of people were saying, like, oh, I don’t want to do a face reveal in the middle of the school year. And it’s very true. Like, imagine, we haven’t seen these people’s faces in like, two years. So it’s weird. Like, even having mine on feels so weird. I have friends that know what I look like now. But like, for those that don’t, it’s like, you never expect what someone’s gonna look like once they take it off. So I feel like that affects me.” 

It’s all weird, confusing, and frustrating to some. The pandemic has made them cautious of what they look like and that can affect such things as mental health. 

Mental health is important and a topic to be addressed with many different factors/topics. COVID caused drastic change for everyone worldwide and continues to impact the present day. 

Lifting the mask mandate might not be the solution for some people, as now the question of why they are choosing to make the decision that they make comes into play. 

Whether it’s appearance, habit, safety, or protection for their families, the majority of people are too traumatized to take their masks off. They have experienced the outbreaks and variants, and because of this, anxiety has escalated now more than ever. 

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Conclusively, the pandemic has and will always have its constant impacts on individuals and families across the world.  

Whether that is from families that have lost loved ones to this disease, or families that have complicated health issues, it is important for the public to understand and be compassionate towards those who choose to keep the mask on. 

Sure, some people are no longer afraid of the pandemic, and that too should be understandable. But for those individuals who are no longer taking precautions, they have to be aware of their surroundings.

We never know what can happen in a split second. Our lives changed in a blink of an eye when the pandemic had started. So, who knows what will happen tomorrow? 

Masks and vaccine requirements were mandated at one point, and now they are no longer needed unless there are special requirements within the place or event. We don’t know where this will take us. Is the pandemic really starting to become endemic?

What’s going to happen? If everyone does take it off, do people start getting sick again? But then, it’s going to happen eventually. So is it the right time to start now? 

All we have been informed throughout this entire journey is statistics and constant data. Now the data has proven something that we have been waiting for for so long. Is that too hard to believe? 

Mr. Reeder concludes by saying, “Ultimately, I would hope that it [COVID] would just go away, right? But I don’t think that’s realistic, because diseases don’t just disappear. So I think our best hope is learning how to live alongside it. So kind of like how we live alongside the flu, we live alongside the common cold, right? There are all these different elements that people have that we just kind of accept as a possibility. And I think COVID is like another one of them now, so I would just hope that people follow the guidelines that are in place,, like, if you feel sick stay home, if you’re around someone who is not vaccinated, then you know, wear masks, right like, I just I would hope that people would just follow the mandates and try to eradicate the spread as much as possible.”

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