Opinion: As COVID infections peak, Boise State community needs to mask up

Boise State cheerleaders pose for a photo at Bronco Night.
Photo by Claire Keener

A few weeks ago, I was preparing for school under what I thought were the best circumstances possible for our current situation. After Boise State made the decision to reinstate a campus-wide mask mandate indoors and outside in crowded spaces, some of my trepidation eased into excitement for the upcoming year. 

I had hoped that the Boise State community would all be working together to keep our campus open and as safe as possible, but the first two weeks of classes – and cases – proved otherwise. 

After two weeks of returning to campus, Boise State’s COVID-19 dashboard reported a 127 increase in on-campus cases. 42 of those cases came from residential students – being a residential student, this was disconcerting. 

An email sent out by Dr. Tromp on Sept. 1 warned of possible campus closures and the shifting of events and classes online, but I have a feeling this warning is much more of a prediction. 

Boise State cheerleaders pose for a photo at Bronco Night.
[Boise State cheerleaders pose for a photo at Bronco Night, a back-to-school event that was cancelled due to a high number of students not wearing masks in the crowded space]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

Even though we have been struggling to adapt to and deal with the COVID-19 pandemic for around 18 months now, I can’t help but notice that there are some people still not taking it seriously. 

Sitting in front of the Micron Business and Economics Building (MBEB), I watched a campus tour of about 35 potential students and parents walk around without masks on at all. 

The tour guide wasn’t wearing a mask, either. As they approached the MBEB, the tour leader said “we should probably put our masks on before going inside,” but there were several people that didn’t. 

This proved to me that not only are people disregarding the facial covering requirements outside in crowded spaces, but people are ignoring the rules inside, too.

According to Boise State’s COVID-19 Response webpage, the university “requires everyone – regardless of vaccination status – to wear a facial covering when indoors on campus as well as in crowded outdoor spaces.” 

Besides a few individuals, the majority of this 35-person group, definitely crowded together outside, no one was wearing a mask. The tour guide didn’t mention anything about putting on masks until they were entering a building, but even then they didn’t make sure that everyone in the group listened. 

Walking around on campus, I often see multiple people entering and exiting buildings without masks on; I’ve seen this most often in the dorms I live in, something that leaves me unsettled when I think about the rapidly increasing cases among on-campus students. 

Perhaps the most upsetting incident I’ve witnessed was when I joined a class Zoom meeting. This class rotates between in-person and virtual styles, but the professor told us that they’d be in our classroom even on days we are meeting online, allowing students who prefer in-person learning to show up even on scheduled Zoom days. 

Through the professor’s Zoom audio, I overheard one student ask if they had to wear masks since less students were present. I expected a simple answer because the answer is yes – Boise State has made it incredibly clear that masks are required in public indoor spaces.

But to my horror, the professor responded with “no, as long as no one walks by.” The professor very briefly turned on their camera, and I was once again taken aback to see that they weren’t wearing a mask themself.

I can’t help but wonder what, if anything, Boise State is doing to enforce mask-wearing. The protocols set in place by the university itself won’t do anything if faculty and staff stand by and watch others ignore said protocols.

Not only is there a lack of care on campus, but the threat off campus is just as overwhelming. 

Every day I receive another KTVB notification about our COVID-19 situation. Cases throughout the state are rising rapidly, not just on campus, and Idaho hospitals are more than overwhelmed. On Sept. 1, Gov. Brad Little called in the National Guard to begin assisting hospitals. Little described his recent visit to St. Luke’s ICU beds as “heartbreaking.” 

The reality is that we began loosening COVID-19 restrictions much too soon, and now we are paying for it. If cases continue rising at their current rates, campus events won’t be the only shutdowns. I can’t help but worry that we’re heading back to where we started on March 13 when our lives changed drastically. 

That isn’t to say we are without hope entirely. Vaccine rates in Idaho are rising, which hopefully means fewer people will contract COVID-19 or have a serious case. According to healthcare officials, getting vaccinated (and continuing to wear a mask) are the best ways to keep yourself and others safe

If the Boise State community really wants to continue attending in-person classes and events, we need to commit to wearing masks indoors in public spaces and outside in crowds. Those who can get vaccinated should. Otherwise, we might be facing more than a few campus closures.

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