DUELING OPINION | Masks should have been required for the whole semester 

     In January, Colorado Springs saw a surge in COVID-19 cases and, at the time, masks were still required at UCCS. As of March 7, however, UCCS has decided that masks are no longer required on campus. Chancellor Venkat Reddy announced this decision on March 1 via email, and responses have been mixed. 

     When I first heard that masks were no longer going to be required on campus, I was skeptical. The updated masking guidance released by the CDC establishes that people should continue wearing masks in high-risk environments, which is determined based on the COVID-19 “Community Level” in your area is. 

     The COVID-19 Community Level in El Paso is not at “low,” but “medium.” On a college campus, this does not bode well for students, staff and faculty who are at high-risk for infection or are otherwise concerned about catching the virus due to being parents or full-time workers. 

     The numbers are — according to the New York Times — improving. El Paso county reports around 106 new cases of COVID-19 each day, with a 64% vaccination rate. However, compared to other Colorado counties, El Paso has the highest daily average of COVID-19 cases.  

     Numbers have gone down dramatically since January, but that does not mean that this trend cannot or will not change in the coming weeks. 

     I am eager to stay optimistic, but still think that lifting the mask mandate on campus was a hasty decision. Wearing masks is a preventative measure meant to keep everyone safe, even when the numbers are low. 

     According to the CDC, the latest COVID-19 variant, Omicron, “spreads more easily than the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Delta variant.” 

     In addition to these risks, I have been hearing about how “we are finally going back to our normal lives” a lot over the past couple of weeks, especially on campus. 

     The issue I have with this “positive” mindset is that it fails to consider how infectious disease spread will probably always be a part of our normal lives now. 

     According to the Duke Global Health Institute, “The probability of novel disease outbreaks will likely grow three-fold in the next few decades.” Because of this, preventative precautions like wearing masks and practicing social distancing continue to be a necessary part of our everyday habits. 

     It is disheartening to see so many people not taking the spread of COVID-19 seriously anymore, especially after seeing the detrimental effects that COVID-19 can have on at-risk individuals. 

     Masks are still important, and even though they are no longer required, individuals need to continue the habit of practicing social distancing in busy areas, and wearing their masks on the bus and other crowded spaces. 

     Wearing a mask does not protect those who need to stay safe if everyone else around them has their masks off. According to an article from WHYY, “CDC [masking] recommendations are an abandonment of what public health should be about, protecting the public as a whole, not each individual, and especially [not] the most vulnerable.” 

     Spreading the narrative that we are going back to our “normal,” pre-pandemic lives is inconsiderate to those on campus who continue to suffer from the impact of the pandemic, whether that means they are immunocompromised, responsible for the care of others or cannot risk infection due to being low income. 

     Preventative practices like wearing masks and social distancing are the new normal, and the sooner we realize this, the safer our campus will be for everyone.