OPINION: End the mask mandates


Emily Soto

All DePaul buildings, including 1 E Jackson Blvd (above), require masks on entry.

DePaul University has announced that they will roll back Covid-19 mandates for masking on campus. This decision comes just days after the City of Chicago lifted its own citywide mask and vaccine mandates.

In an update to Campus Covid-19 guidance, DePaul officials said that “To avoid disruption, DePaul will continue to require masks in classrooms and labs at least until the end of winter quarter, Sunday, March 20. Outside of these spaces, beginning Feb. 28, masks will be recommended, but not required.”

For too long the choice of whether or not to get vaccinated, wear a mask or attend class in person has been shifted from students to the administration. I praise DePaul for finally returning the choice of how to best protect yourself back to the students, and hope that they will take the next step in removing mask mandates from the classroom for next term.

City of Chicago data shows the seven-day rolling averages for new Covid-19 cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations are all at their lowest since last summer. For Chicagoans between the ages of 18 and 29, which is representative of the vast majority of our student body, there has only been one hospitalization and there have been no deaths in the past week. This is no longer an emergency, and certainly not one for college students.

Omicron, and Covid-19 in general, never posed a threat to our student population in the first place. The risk of death and serious illness is almost non-existent in the age range that encapsulates nearly all of DePaul’s student body. The severity of the omicron variant, with regards to both hospitalization and deaths, is far lower than previous waves across the board.

Throughout the pandemic, DePaul has frequently cited public health guidance coming from the City of Chicago as the justification for them to impose new restrictions on students. To not lift those same restrictions in accordance with the new public health guidance would be an illogical misstep.

Maybe surprising to some, I actually fully understand the decision to delay the unmasking within classrooms until the end of this term. Students who signed up under the impression that others would be masked should not suddenly have to reassess their situation and determine whether or not they want to learn in person or online. Individuals should be given the opportunity to make an informed decision about their health at the end of the term.

What I am calling for is not a ban on students wearing masks. If students wish to continue to wear KN95s to protect themselves from contracting Covid-19, they are more than welcome to do so. My plea is that students who do not want to wear a mask in class are no longer required to. Starting with the spring term, I urge DePaul to remove the mask mandate from the classroom as well.

The rebuttal I will receive to this argument is that masks protect others, not just yourself. People who are concerned with the risk of catching Covid-19, long-term effects or serious illness all have the freedom to not attend class in person. Staying at home and learning via Zoom will ensure you do not contract Covid-19 on campus. I am exhausted of individuals expecting others to mask in order to protect you. The default position for normalcy is for us to be maskless; it is time for individuals who are so held up on continuing pandemic fear to be the ones who bear the consequences.

The only person responsible for making decisions about your health is you. If you are still scared of the minuscule chance that you will have a serious case of Covid-19, you are more than welcome to pursue an online degree.

Even more frustrating is the continued implementation of vaccine mandates. Due to our vaccines’ ability to reduce symptomatic cases they do have an indirect effect on reducing transmission, but not enough of one to  justify a community interest in the vaccination statuses of others. In the midst of the delta wave, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said that “with regard to severe illness and death — [vaccines] prevent it. But what they can’t do anymore is prevent transmission.” There is no justification for vaccine mandates now that we understand they do not stop the spread — it is simply an encroachment on personal medical autonomy by our university.

After over two years of masks being commonplace in the city and on our campus, I urge DePaul to finally return to our normal way of life. Some people seem to have become complacent with masking as a part of life. I, personally, miss seeing the faces of my professors and fellow students in class. Every step we have taken throughout the pandemic should have been done with the goal of returning to normal, and now is the time to take that final step.

The continued masking and forced vaccination of our students are outdated relics of a time in which we lacked a true understanding of Covid-19 and how to live with it. Now that we as a nation are taking an endemic approach to Covid-19, it is time that we rid ourselves of policies that limit individual choice.