Quick Takes: Students react to Northwestern’s mask-optional policy


Daily file illustration by Angeli Mittal

Dance and a capella groups discuss whether to make masks optional within their clubs.

Last week, Northwestern announced that beginning Monday, masks will no longer be required in many indoor spaces. In these Quick Takes, students react to this policy change. 

COVID-19 doesn’t end at the mask

Since I woke up today, I’ve likely seen well over 100 people across classes, my job and in the hallways. Even though the mask order is still in place, a number of people didn’t have their masks on. On Feb. 28, the masking order at NU will be partially lifted. COVID-19, however, isn’t going to magically disappear. The virus doesn’t handpick who gets COVID-19 and who doesn’t. It’s not going to disappear — far from it, actually. It’s going to spread more because, without masks, people are more easily infected. 

Sure, the bulk of the infected are vaccinated and boosted. But what about those who are immunocompromised? What about those who know someone who is at high risk? This pandemic is bigger than so many people realize, and the disregard some hold for others is blatantly clear. On one hand, this issue is incredibly nuanced. Each person has their own reasons for the way they feel and they, to an extent, are entitled to that. However, for many people, the pandemic is also life and death. Nationally, there are still more than 1,500 people losing their lives daily. This pandemic isn’t over and, at this rate, it won’t be for a long time. 

— Abbie Farley, Class of 2025

Looking at the facts

It is about time Northwestern aligned itself with COVID-19 guidelines adopted across the country and the rest of the world. In the same way the introduction of restrictions was contingent upon worsening state and local trends, the decision to lift them must also depend on those same trends. The facts speak for themselves. Throughout the U.S., Illinois, Evanston and now NU, COVID-19 cases have trended downward since early January and are close to reaching the pre-omicron levels. So have hospitalizations, the new metric that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focuses on for its guidance. If one considers that many of our peers in colleges in other countries — like the United Kingdom — lifted mask mandates many weeks prior to today’s announcement and did not suffer because of it, it is clear that the direction we are heading in is the right one. And this is without mentioning that NU’s vaccination rate (98%) is one shared by very few places outside of U.S. universities. 

It is important to remember Thursday’s announcement is not one which bans the use of masks. Instead, they are made optional. Those who feel strongly about needing a mask will continue to be able to wear one and perhaps also enjoy greater availability since they won’t be in such high demand. If one wants to protect themselves more, they are able to do so. Let’s also not forget that the classroom, a space where people are most crowded, still requires masking. But it would not make much sense for spaces where people are more spread out — like Norris University Center, libraries and residence halls — to be treated the same.

COVID-19 is not going to be eradicated. Therefore, we need to learn to live with it. NU did its duty by requiring three doses of the vaccine, and the community heeded that call. A safe world from COVID-19 is a world in which everyone is vaccinated, and NU has more than met that goal. If one wants to go that extra mile and wear a mask, one should be able to do so. However, for as long as public health trends continue on their current path, they don’t allow for a solid case to be made about why this should be a requirement for everyone.

Nick Papandreou, Class of 2022

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