Hi, I’m Quincy Balius. Some of you may know me as the Opinion Editor of the MSU Exponent. Others may know me as a peer mentor through the Sophomore Surge program, a student fellow for Texts and Critics, a Presidential Scholar, an employee at Archives and Special Collections or a highly excitable history student. Right now, though, none of these identities matter as much as my classification as an individual at high risk for COVID-19. Due to a heart condition, I’ve moved most of my classes online and am only on the MSU campus for one class, twice a week. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that adherence to the mask requirement is lackluster at best. While students do a great job of wearing them in class, the moment that they’re outside or in an area where they can eat or drink, the masks come off. As a high-risk individual speaking for the many students on campus whose lives are threatened by this virus, please wear your mask anytime you are around other people.
When MSU first put the mask requirement in place, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I have spent much of the pandemic consumed with worry and fear not only for myself, but also for my family and roommate who have asthma, my grandparents with multiple health conditions, my elderly professors and my immunocompromised coworkers. I hoped that the mask mandate would help protect me and others on campus, since I knew proper social distancing would be impossible. Though I still wanted to take as many personal precautions as I could, I felt the mask mandate was a step in the right direction.
Then came the first day of class of the fall semester. I parked my car, full of the usual first-day jitters, and began walking from the parking lot toward Linfield Hall. Immediately, I saw dozens of students walking around campus without masks on. When I entered the library for my first shift at Special Collections, I saw that about a third of the library patrons weren’t wearing masks, many of whom were in close proximity to others. Throughout the day, I watched as campus-goers ripped off their masks the moment they stepped outside or left the classroom, ignoring whether or not they were socially distanced from others. Over the course of the next few weeks, I saw these behaviors repeated over and over again.
According to multiple studies, including one titled “Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US” in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed healthcare journal, masks are effective at preventing or slowing the spread of COVID-19 in real-world scenarios. On their webpage “Considerations for Wearing Masks,” The Center for Disease Control says, “Masks are a critical preventive measure and are most essential in times when social distancing is difficult.” Due to the enormous number of students (16,776 in fall 2019 and rising) enrolled at MSU, it is hard to maintain a six-foot distance, even when outside. You may feel safe taking off your mask as soon as you leave the SUB, but you are directly putting other people in danger by refusing to mask up. If you care more about being able to go out in public than the wellbeing of others, consider a study titled “Universal Masking is Urgent in the COVID-19 Pandemic: SEIR and Agent Based Models, Empirical Validation, Policy Recommendations,” which states that if 80% of the population consistently wore masks, it could do more to restrict COVID-19 spread than another strict lockdown.
In addition, the impact of adherence to the mask mandate stretches beyond the MSU campus alone. Students from MSU make their way into every part of the Bozeman community, from apartment buildings to restaurants to grocery stores. If you are not doing your part to stop the spread of COVID-19, you could be complicit in allowing it to metastasize throughout all of Bozeman and beyond. Wearing a mask on campus whenever you are around others precludes the potential for cases to rise in our community.
I understand that masks are uncomfortable. I know they’re hot, sweaty and restrict your speech and facial movements at times. But, to be blunt, do you value your comfort over others’ lives? Mask up and stay safe, Bobcats.