Students react to mask policy changes

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The CDC announced changes to its mask recommendations Feb. 25 saying masks are required only where the community COVID-19 level is high. BYU made mask-wearing optional two days earlier. (Brigham Tomco)

The CDC announced Feb. 25 they no longer recommend wearing masks in all public settings, confirming recent actions taken by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU to relax mask mandates.

The CDC’s new guidelines urge mask-wearing only where COVID-19 community levels are high, taking into account the hospital admissions, bed space and number of new cases recorded.

Following a surge in cases caused by the omicron variant of the virus, Utah county’s COVID-19 community level is low, according to CDC data.

This graph shows the change in Utah County COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks. The information provided comes from the CDC and usafacts.org. (Made in Canva by Brigham Tomco)

Anticipating the CDC’s announcement by a week, the First Presidency of the Church released a statement on Feb. 18 giving local sectors the freedom to alter or abandon mask requirements.

“Local leaders should consider the guidance of local health and government officials and local customs and conditions,” the letter said.

The following Wednesday, BYU updated its mask policy, citing encouraging trends in COVID-19 case numbers.

“Masks will now be optional in classrooms and other indoor spaces on campus, except in certain situations as directed,” the update said.

After nearly two years of mask requirements on campus, these sudden changes came as a relief to many BYU students, although not everybody is ready to abandon their masks.

For Marx Acosta-Rubio, an economics major from Texas, the changes are long overdue.

“I think it’s about time,” Acosta-Rubio said. “I thought it should have been voluntary from the beginning.”

Despite his strong opinions toward mask requirements, however, Acosta-Rubio acknowledged BYU did the best it could to find compromise in a tense and uncertain environment.

“I understand the university is in a difficult situation because of how politicized of an issue this became,” he said.

Students like Jacob Carver, a marketing major from Washington State, said he trusts the Church’s and university’s announcements are a comforting sign the pandemic is finally coming to an end.

“I think it’s good we are taking steps forward to get ourselves out of the pandemic, and I’m hoping this means there are lower cases,” Carver said. He added he still felt the need to do more research to judge whether it was a good idea to start lifting mask mandates.

Other students like freshman nursing student Cole Kendall worry the more relaxed policies are premature and could result in more COVID-19 transmissions.

“Personally, I feel like they could have waited a little longer. We’re still in the heat of things and numbers are still pretty high,” Kendall said.

Recognizing that differing views on mask mandates are inevitable, Kendall insisted the mask policy should not change how we treat each other.

“As long as people are respectful about people’s decisions, whether it’s wearing one or not wearing one, it’s not something I feel needs to be super controversial,” Kendall said.

Another thing that should not be controversial, according to most BYU students, is that masks will not be missed. “I’m not gonna miss wearing masks for sure,” Carver said, laughing. “I don’t think anyone will.”

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