Opinion: JDS Should loosen the mask mandate

Nini Panner, Reporter

The pandemic was an unstable and scary time for our community and world. Wearing masks became the safe and cautious way to venture out into the world. However, as cases lower and vaccination rates rise, I think it is time to loosen the mask mandate. 

Montgomery County first lifted the mask mandate on Oct. 28, after seven days of moderate transmissions reported by the Center for Disease and Control (CDC). “Moderate transmission” means that there were only 10 to 49 new cases reported per 100,000 residents. 

Since then, the infection rates have ticked slightly upward, with 51.2 people per 100,00 testing positive. According to the CDC, the infection rate qualifies as a “substantial transmission” and would push Montgomery County back into the mask mandate. County officials have pushed this off and are only reinstating the mask mandate if substantial transmission continues for seven consecutive days. 

The new protocol allows individual establishments to decide whether they will still enforce masks. Public transport and Montgomery County Public Schools buildings still require a face mask. 

The policy change is a decision I support entirely. As opportunities open up for five to 11-year-olds to get the vaccine, we are more than ready to begin opening back up again. Montgomery County has thirteen thousand vaccines available for this age group already. Although caution is essential, information about COVID-19 symptoms and quarantine protocol is much more available and understood. 

As we advance more into the school year, I urge CESJDS administrators to reconsider mask requirements. All eligible JDS students and staff have been vaccinated. As that expands to all students in the Upper School, students will be completely safe to wear masks as much or as little as they prefer. 

Similar to Montgomery County’s approach to individual businesses, I believe individual students and staff should decide the precautions they want to take. JDS has the advantage of weekly testing to monitor any increases in COVID-19 cases. While it is unrealistic for public schools to effectively monitor their larger student populations, JDS benefits from our smaller community. Mask mandates should be maintained in county public schools because of their size. 

Masks have also been detrimental to many students’ learning, and therefore our community should not prolong the requirement. Many times this year, I have had conversations with friends about our shock from finally seeing our teachers or even fellow students’ faces for the first time. A masked world is not the appropriate environment for students to learn or grow. 

Students have already struggled with connection this past year in quarantine and there is no need to prolong that strain on relationships. Masks continue to interfere with students’ social-emotional growth. Facial and emotional recognition is a big part of learning outside the classroom, and masks restrict this. 

Students and staff have gotten used to the rhythm of other protocols such as enforcing social distancing and sanitizing their workspaces and hands. These are also effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. JDS would still be a safe environment without enforcing facial coverings. 

 There was a time when masks were vital to the safety of our school and worldwide community, but we are fortunately beginning to leave that behind. The changes to our school’s mask mandates do not need to be implemented immediately, but I encourage us to start more of a conversation and take steps towards fewer COVID-19 restrictions.