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‘A human decency issue’: Students explore the politics of mask-wearing

Students are back on campus for the first time in months, and Belmont has made its stance clear: no mask, no class.

And ever since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the country into lockdown in mid-March, the topic of cloth face coverings has become both political and divisive.

While research shows face coverings could help contain the spread of the virus, others believe that masks are unnecessary and limit their personal freedoms.

Despite outbreaks at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Notre Dame and the University of Alabama, Belmont decided to move forward with resuming in-person classes Monday.

The university hopes to stay open with the help of Hyflex courses, social distancing measures and a strict mask mandate.

Belmont is requiring students to wear masks at all times while on campus, including while outdoors. The current mask mandate in Davidson County does not require masks to be worn outside if social distancing can be followed.

Transfer student Sean Dean said Belmont “is doing a really good job with the mask policy.”

Dean, who is immunocompromised, said he fully supports the science behind wearing masks, noting that the only reason masks weren’t mandated from the start was because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t know the virus could spread so fast in communities.

Dean said there is no reason mask-wearing should’ve become political.

Ever since it was discovered that the virus spread through droplets, masks have been proven to slow the transmission of the virus in public spaces, per the CDC.

“If it had been contained, we wouldn’t have to wear masks,” Dean said.

A common excuse used by those who don’t want to wear masks is that it makes it hard for some to breathe, but studies have shown wearing a mask doesn’t decrease one’s oxygen intake.

Although students were eager to get back on campus, it will be hard to ignore the sense of anxiety felt by both students and faculty.

“Any anxiety that I have comes from the fact that there’s so much unknown,” said Dean.

Masks are supposed to help keep those with immunodeficiencies safe, but wearing cloth masks can be detrimental to students with hearing disabilities. Belmont faculty have the ability to wear a clear mask while teaching to accommodate students who can read lips.

Katrina Plank, a deaf student, said, “Regular masks make everything very inaccessible because I read lips.”

In terms of the mask protocol and overall safety on campus, Plank said she doesn’t feel “totally safe, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

Despite the policies, though, some still feel the school could ask more of its students — senior Jessica Chancey, said she believes that masks should be required outdoors.

“I myself tested positive for coronavirus back in May during an outdoor event,” she said. “Belmont is a very small, compact campus and with the amount of people eager to return to campus, I do not see social distancing as a consistent thing. ”

Many people argue they have no symptoms and are not worried about spreading the virus — but for students like Hannah Hutchinson, the concern for safety remains.

“People who don’t feel sick could be asymptomatic but just as easily spread the virus as those who do have symptoms,” said senior Hannah Hutchinson.

Bethany Husni, a junior at Belmont this year, agrees.

Husni said that she thinks wearing masks has become political, but that it’s “a human decency issue rather than one of who you’re voting for.”

Ultimately, many students are eager to return to campus — and they have no qualms wearing a mask as long as classes continue.

“The rest of the world decided to [wear masks] right away and conquered the virus in a nice fashion. It is not an infringement of your rights. People’s lives are at stake and you need to do your part,” said Hutchinson.

The university is urging students to avoid any large gatherings and consistently follow all safety guidelines.

“If you don’t want to wear a mask, stay home,” said Dean. 

This article written by Sarah Maninger and Hannah Crosswy.

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