Opinion Asks: To Mask or Not to Mask?

What should Dartmouth do to balance COVID-19 concerns with its long-promised return to normalcy?

by The Dartmouth Opinion Staff | 8/6/21 4:00am

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by Julia Siegel / The Dartmouth

Summer term served as a test of Dartmouth’s ability to operate “normally” as the pandemic continues. It’s fair to say things have gone well so far: Until recently, cases have been few and far between even after most COVID-19 policies were rolled back in the last month. However, increasing case counts locally and the rapid spread of the Delta variant across the country have thrown a “normal” fall term into uncertainty. Just this week, Hanover reinstated its indoor mask mandate, and the College did the same yesterday. What should Dartmouth do to balance fears around COVID-19 with its long-promised return to normal operations? Should the College prioritize one over the other?

Dartmouth’s decision to reinstate a mask mandate sends the wrong message. One of the supposed advantages of getting the vaccine was the promise of a “return to normal.” There is no reason why vaccinated individuals should be taking precautions — sacrificing “normalcy” — to protect others who have willingly chosen not to receive the vaccine. I’m afraid that unvaccinated individuals would see the return to universal masking as a reason not to get vaccinated. They would think, naturally, that other people, those who were responsible enough to get vaccinated, are taking steps to protect me — so why should I bother getting vaccinated? Dartmouth should not give into irrational fears about COVID-19 when 93% of the on-campus community is already vaccinated. It is far more important, especially in light of many students’ mental health challenges, that we continue in the direction of normalcy. Continuing to live in fear of a virus — against which the College is requiring vaccination — defeats the purpose of getting vaccinated.

— Michael Harrison ’24

Throughout the pandemic, Dartmouth has made many adjustments, and because of them, campus transmission of the virus has been relatively low. However, that has not come without costs. Throughout the past year, the Dartmouth administration has repeatedly made its decisions with little to no student input. Students are what make the Dartmouth community, yet it feels as though we are perpetually excluded from the conversation. I urge the administration to give students a voice regarding its decisions. We can have a safe community without being burdened by superfluous restrictions. Student concerns must be heard. Stop leaving us out of the conversation.

— Katherine Arrington ’24

Given that upwards of 90% of the on-campus Dartmouth community are currently vaccinated and vaccinated individuals are at a low risk of contracting the Delta variant, this decision is an unnecessary overreaction. Dartmouth cites similar policies enacted by peer schools as justification for their decision, but Ivy League schools such as the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University are only requiring their unvaccinated students to mask indoors. Right now, with just three active student cases, this policy seems overzealous.

— Thomas de Wolff ’24

As long as it stays just a mask, it’s fine — that’s my mindset on our new COVID-19 requirements. It’s unfortunate that even in one of the most vaccinated communities in the country, Dartmouth students are still required to take this step. But masking indoors is low on the list of pandemic hardships, so long as we can avoid returning to social isolation and reduced in-person interaction. Let me try to be optimistic — perhaps this mask mandate is just what’s needed to help head off a Delta wave and avoid more drastic measures.

— Max Teszler ’23

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