Illustration by Katie Jahns
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks are one of the most useful tools to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But while masks are a potentially life-saving tool, they’ve taken on a new role in everyday life — as a norm, a fashion accessory and a controversy.
Dr. Indrani Hwang, a medical professional at NorthShore University HealthSystem, agreed with the CDC’s guidance that masks dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets created by talking, laughing and certainly sneezing,” Hwang said. “So if there’s something that can help stop the spread from someone who’s infected to someone who’s unaffected, that is a great tool for us to use.”
SESP junior Emily Munster has a hybrid engineering class where students wouldn’t have access to the same resources over Zoom. In particular, she has appreciated access to building supplies for class projects and hands-on help with designs.
But most importantly, she said, having the opportunity to interact with others in-person has been beneficial for her mental health, providing her with a chance to leave her apartment and helping her stay more engaged during class.
“I still feel very safe, COVID-wise, when I’m there,” Munster said. “Everybody’s wearing masks, everybody’s distanced, everybody’s been tested.”
In Evanston, residents over the age of two are required to wear masks in all public spaces where they are not able to maintain a six-foot distance. Despite local mask-wearing mandates, in many places across the U.S., there has been some resistance to mask-wearing as a violation of personal freedom.
Weinberg sophomore Phoebe Chapnick-Sorokin is from Iowa City, where Mayor Bruce Teague issued a temporary mask mandate against the orders of Gov. Kim Reynolds, lasting from July 21 to Sept. 15. Mask requirements and sheltering orders have never been required by the state.
“People don’t really wear masks (back home),” Chapnick-Sorokin said. “Once the students got back in late August, they were all going to the bars, it looked just like normal. They were crowding the streets. It was terrifying… and it just felt really unsafe.”
In her city, public schools are open. Chapnick-Sorokin said she was nervous thinking about her parents living there — especially her mom, who is an elementary school teacher.
Now back in Evanston, Chapnick-Sorokin said the difference in safety protocol is clear.
“It was really refreshing to come to Evanston and be able to go places and trust that other people are going to be wearing masks and understand the situation and are going to help keep me safe,” she said.
Data shows that the risk of spread between an infected and uninfected person when both are not wearing masks is significantly higher than if only the infected person was wearing a mask. If both people are wearing masks, Feinberg Prof. Michael Ison said the risk is close to zero.
Ison also specified that while certain masks, such as the N95, are better at keeping out aerosols, and are used in hospital settings around those infected with the virus. The best mask, he said, is something you can practically wear.
In regards to the resistance on mask-wearing, Ison said it comes down to a matter of how much you care about those around you.
“I always ask the anti-masker, why don’t they want to wear one? It’s a very simple thing,” Ison said. “By not wearing a mask, it says you don’t care about anyone else but yourself.”
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