In their own attempt to change personal behavior during the pandemic, Wesleyan University has mandated mask-wearing in almost every facet of campus life. However, once when I was studying in Olin Library, a student wearing a nylon neck gaiter sat right by me in a secluded desk cubicle and took his mask off.
I hesitated to see if he was just taking a sip of water, but after a few minutes I approached him and reminded him that we are all supposed to be wearing masks. Being on a college campus, we are all expected to comply with the rules and regulations that were contingent on a safe and successful return to school.
But confronting other students is something that was not included in the plan to make our campus safe. So why do we have to remind people to wear a mask? As members of our community, we must recognize that mask-wearing is something we are all responsible and accountable for, not only because it is a form of protection for us, but just as importantly for others as well.
However, this requires more than one person actively making this change in mindset; it takes an entire cultural reset.
Mask-wearing is not only easy, but it is effective as well. Without a readily available and safe vaccine or a proven therapy, wearing a mask serves as our only protection against Covid-19. According to the University of California San Francisco, “an experiment using high-speed video found that hundreds of droplets ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by a damp washcloth.”
With all of these factors in mind, then why are some Americans still not actively wearing masks? With Covid-19 cases at the highest they have ever been, now more than ever Americans should be wearing masks.
However, it seems as though both Covid fatigue and complacency are dominating the mindsets of Americans, leading to even more unwillingness to mask up.
On the other hand, Asian cultures have already adopted the norm of mask-wearing prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. The SARS outbreak of 2002 in China served as a turning point in Asian culture and mindset which led people to willingly wear masks when they are feeling under the weather as a form of being polite when they are in public.
However, in the United States, it was not until the coronavirus outbreak that mask-wearing was heavily implemented—in some places. Even today, in the midst of a second wave, the efforts to prevent the spread of the disease through face coverings have been ignored by some Americans, who “are choosing to ignore CDC guidance and local mandates on masks, a hesitation that Chin-Hong says is ‘foolhardy.’”
Ultimately, it is inevitable that this pandemic will not be the last in our lifespan due to global warming creating irreversible losses in biodiversity. As a result, it is imperative that we adopt the norm of mask-wearing now and undergo a culture shift of the abandonment of an individualistic mindset, and instead, create a society that prioritizes taking care of others for the benefit of all.
Danielle Rinaldi is a senior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She lives in Ewing. Verónica Socorro Matos is also a senior at Wesleyan University and is from San Juan, Puerto Rico.