Masks up!

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In the past few weeks alone we’ve seen Hunterdon County go from the green to an orange zone in regards to COVID cases. The imminent back-to-normal we were all anticipating halted as we may have gotten too ahead of ourselves. Contact tracing is only so effective in a school as dense and large as ours. There’s only so much our already proactive administration can do to mitigate the spread of this virus while allowing us to once again enjoy the feeling of a “normal” school year. The most important aspect of this: masks.
Masks have been our main attack against the spread of COVID-19 in Hunterdon Central and it has to continue. Mandating them with faculty and staff enforcing strict policies such as keeping them above your nose, not above their eyes, has been crucial in maximizing our protection. So much has already been done to adjust our school with sanitizer and wipes readily available in each classroom, but you really can’t force anyone to use them. Despite all these measures, we still have to deal with precautions such as the divided lunch block, which has been immensely successful in concentrating fewer people in one central location. While the cafeteria may be a different story, tables in areas like the commons are not nearly as packed as they once were. Many have come to adjust to these precautions, even with the four-section lunches being newly introduced.
Would the two existing lunch periods be split in half? Will our block schedules change again? Will it go virtual again? These are all legitimate questions that arise as the existing situation gets worse. In fact, it’s not even just our school or our state. A prime example of the rise in positive cases can be seen in professional sports with leagues like the NFL and NBA having large portions of their teams in health and safety protocols. This has been resulting in signing/activating new players temporarily and even postponing games.
Should we really be surprised though? For as long as I can remember, we’ve been told about how the Winter season would be the worst in regards to cases and that this devastating virus would become like the seasonal flu requiring measures on a daily basis. As a school community, we are required to wear masks per a mandate by Phil Murphy. This measure, as of November 8th, was expected to slowly be lifted starting with older students, such as ourselves, because of high vaccination rates. We can assume that this won’t be the case considering the worsening situation, but if the mandate is lifted in a couple of months, what would we do as a school? It’s nice that in outdoor settings, masks can be lifted down, but keeping them on indoors should probably be the best way to go if we truly want to reflect back to the normal we were once entitled to. It seems clear that cases would only rise more, bring our area into a worse zone, and reverse so much of the progress we’ve already made if a precaution like wearing masks were made optional. If we truly want a reality in which we consistently have a prom, sporting games, and graduation, certain sacrifices have to be made.
Being fully virtual last year was certainly a unique experience, but not one I’d like to repeat whatsoever. I believe many would agree with me when I say that being back in school has been amazing and a chance to see our peers again and socialize in an environment we’ve missed. Masks may feel out of place now, but a little discipline can really go a long way in ensuring we continue to make progress as a school body and society. We haven’t reached a position where herd immunity has been achieved in regards to vaccination against COVID-19 and it’s important to do what we can in school to follow the simplest, yet hardest of safety measures. I’m guilty of having my mask off in social settings such as malls. I’m learning my lesson now as I see how this lax approach, in tandem with the winter season, has created a completely new mentality about progress we’re making in comparison to the beginning of this school year.
Masks, as annoying they can be at times, are truly our most effective measure against worsening the rise in cases in our school and we need to keep them on. We, as students vaccinated or unvaccinated, are responsible to keep eachother, our administrators, and our teachers safe. Our best shot at ending this semester, let alone this year, the way we started, is to stay as disciplined as we’ve already been and follow the safety guidelines. It’s worth it for the future we’re trying to recreate.