Masks in Schools Article

Masks in Schools Article

Andrea Ramos

Throughout the beginning of the pandemic, schools across Utah and across the country began to move online—transitioning to virtual learning seemingly indefinitely. For over a year, most schools remained shut down. But now, they are finally opening back up, West included. However, along with the opening of schools has come new surges in COVID-19. According to U.S. News and World Report, “more than 51,000 students in Texas have tested positive for COVID-19 since the first week of school in August. The same is true for 20,000 students in Mississippi.” Many believe that mask usage in schools can protect against these rising numbers—and so far, at least in our school, it seems to be working.

As I’m sure all of you know, here in the Salt Lake City School District, there is a mask mandate for all students and staff members. Though it’s not heavily enforced, it seems to be working. According to the Utah Department of Health, there have only been 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West High since school began, a significant achievement for a school that enrolls 2,809 students.

 But even though our school has had far fewer cases than others in Utah, it is still important to discuss the dangers of COVID-19. Although during the beginning of the pandemic it seemed as if children were largely unaffected by COVID-19, we now know that they have always been susceptible.

According to Rhea Boyd, “kids have always, throughout the pandemic, been hospitalized with COVID—and sadly, hundreds of kids have died over the last year from COVID alone.” Children have always been at risk, and this risk level increases with age. This means that COVID-19 poses almost as much of a threat to Utah’s highschoolers and middle schoolers as it does to its adults.

Many U.S. schools, including West, have established mask mandates—and like I stated earlier, they seem to be working. But some still have doubts. To clear up some of those doubts, here is some information on how masks prevent the spread of COVID-19. Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets. Larger ones fall to the ground quickly, but smaller ones can remain in the air for up to an hour. In places with poor ventilation, these droplets can build up in the air, creating COVID-19 hotspots. But masks prevent this.

According to the JAMA Network, “masks form a barrier to respiratory droplets that could land on exposed mucous membranes of the eye, nose, and mouth.” So the more people wear them, the less likely you are to get COVID-19.

But not all masks are created equal. Some are more effective than others. 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency “surgical masks with ties provided 71.5 percent filtration, while surgical masks with ear loops only provided 38.1 percent.” They also said that “a three-layer knitted cotton mask blocked an average of 26.5 percent of particles in the chamber, while a washed, two-layer woven nylon mask with a filter insert and metal nose bridge blocked 79 percent of particles on average. Other masks scored somewhere in between.” I did my own bit of research; I looked at the different types of masks West students are wearing, randomly surveying 142 West students during 4th period. I found that 9.86% of them wore their masks under their nose, 4.93% of them didn’t wear a mask at all, 21.83% wore cloth masks, 56.34% wore surgical masks, and only 7.4% wore k95 masks. Here is a pie chart for visual reference:

Even though very few students are wearing the best masks, the majority of them are wearing a somewhat effective mask, so the herd protection offered by masking should protect them. However, this is only my interpretation of the data.

So far, masks seem to be working for our school. So, for the safety of yourself and others please wear a mask. Masks are a vital part of protecting both you and those around you from the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, remember that not all masks are created equal. Try and wear the best mask you can, and wear it properly—tightly fitted to your face with your nose, mouth and chin covered.