Opinion: Omicron COVID surge demands a need for mask enforcement

Student wearing a mask near Chaffee Hall.
Photo by Preston Valles

Beginning year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of new norms that humans worldwide have been forced to adapt to. 

For me, social distancing, wearing a mask and almost-excessive hand sanitizer use have all become commonplace actions that I follow through with as easily as putting on my shoes and checking to make sure I grabbed my keys. 

However, throughout these past years full of uncertainty and anxiety, I have come to understand that not everyone agrees with me or feels the same way. According to a survey released early last year, “two-thirds of Americans reported being in close contact (within less than 6 feet) with people outside their household in early December, but only about half of them said they mostly or always wore a mask while doing so.” 

Student wearing a mask near Chaffee Hall.
[Photo of a student wearing a mask outside of Chaffee Hall]
Photo by Preston Valles | Student Media

On the other hand, I tend to put on my mask every time I leave my dorm. Not only because it’s a university requirement, but also because research has consistently shown that wearing facial coverings, along with being fully vaccinated, are the best ways to keep myself and others safe; a lot of that research has been compiled throughout the CDC’s website.

Last semester, I especially noticed more and more people around campus, in places where masks were required, walking around without one on. So far, this has been the case this spring semester as well. At first, witnessing people refusing to wear a mask where it is required on a crowded college campus made me angry. 

Now, it makes me sad. With exponentially rising cases locally, it even scares me a little. I don’t want to get sick, nor do I want to get any of my loved ones sick; how can I ensure that when the people in my community refuse to do what science, medical experts and our own university is telling us to do? Not just for our own safety, but for the safety of everyone around us.

One concern I had over the past semester was the lack of enforcement. Now, I don’t think students who don’t wear a mask where they’re supposed to should be expelled by any means, but I rarely saw anyone even just remind someone to put on a mask. 

Frankly, I didn’t remind anyone myself, so perhaps it’s selfish of me to let that fall on others. Still, that burden has to fall on somebody because otherwise, our case numbers on campus (which, for the past two weeks, have broken previous records) are only going to climb. 

However, the Boise State Housing and Residence Life (HRL) staff made some changes to their facial covering policy. While face masks were required in all public spaces in the fall 2021 semester, it seems they may not have been keen to enforce that policy. 

It was more common for me to see someone walking about the halls of my residence hall without a mask than with one. Even in group activities sponsored by HRL, some folks did not wear a mask. This led to me avoiding these community-building events altogether.  

Fortunately, I believe, HRL seems to have made a commitment to the health of their residents. On Jan. 9, Resident Director of University Suites/Square Jane Lander sent out an email detailing the new facial covering policy. 

Lander wrote, “In light of the increase in COVID cases on campus and in the Treasure Valley, as well as recommendations and guidance from the CDC and the Boise State University Public Health Office, Housing & Residence Life is requiring and will be enforcing, the wearing of facial coverings within our residential communities.” 

Lander went on to write that any students not properly wearing a facial covering following Jan. 17 will be “documented and referred to the Student Code of Conduct process.” 

Though this addition to the residence hall mask mandate did reassure me, I can’t help but wonder how thoroughly it really can be enforced. I feel it shouldn’t be up to us as college students to tell others to put on a mask, but how else can we get through this pandemic without more and more illnesses? 

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers. Maybe no one does. All I can say is please, please wear a facial covering properly where it is required — maybe wear one even where it isn’t required. (And please get vaccinated!) Wearing a mask is an effective way to keep from catching and spreading the virus — it really is that simple.

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