Mandating masks to curb COVID-19 in Forsyth county


Clori Rose-Geiger

Students (left to right) Shree Delwadia and Lisa Holiday. Both on the Bird Feed staff, they are participating in the recommended mask-wearing. Having a mask mandate would help students and faculty feel safer attending school and stop schools from closing.

The Bird Feed Staff

The coronavirus has been plaguing our country and news for months now, however it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Walking through the halls, following the blue tape on the floor, we look at the faces of our peers. For some of them, their eyes are the only parts visible. The intense debates over mask-wearing found on tv echoes throughout the school. “What’s the point of masks anyway?” comes out of the open doors of some classrooms. “Masks work and prevent the spread of disease,” others shoot back. With cases in Georgia rising and many concerned South Forsyth students, a mask mandate may be the best solution for Forsyth County Schools.

Trends in Forsyth County COVID-19 cases

From the increase in travel during the holidays and continued spread of the virus, COVID-19 deaths have surpassed 500 thousand in the United States. Many people traveled to visit family for the holidays and many people have begun using airline services again for vacations and work-related trips. This is the result of a growing desire in Americans to go back to their normal lifestyles pre-COVID, where family and friends can gather. However, it is imperative that everyone remains vigilant in their efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic by limiting their amount of travel, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. 

The increase in travel paired with the decreasing sense of attentiveness in Americans had a direct impact on the Forsyth County community for some time. There was a clear jump in Forsyth county cases over winter break. This spike may repeat itself due to those who travel over spring break and return maskless. Although Forsyth County has started mass vaccinations for its essential workers and elderly, this alone is not enough to stop the spread. A Medical News Today article discussed a Texas A & M study in which researchers found that over 31% of Americans queried did not intend to get the vaccine. In addition, the CDC recommends still wearing a mask until every individual in an area is vaccinated. The Guardian has a great interactive graphic explaining why; the virus can still be spread through the nasal cavity despite vaccination. Therefore, masks are going to continue to be an integral part of stopping COVID and preventing the spread.

Many Forsyth County members are being exposed to COVID-19 and government officials and school administration need to take action to stop the spread. According to the CDC, wearing a mask is one of the main ways that allows people to resume their lives safely and healthily. Therefore, mandating masks in public places, especially Forsyth County schools, is a viable option to keep the community safe and healthy and get back to pre-COVID lifestyles at a quicker pace.

How a mask mandate would help Forsyth County residents

As she transitions to her next class, she quickly adjusts the straps of her masks, shifting uncomfortably through the hallways. As she glances at the students walking alongside her, she sees crowds of people gathering and talking without wearing masks. She constantly worries that the people around her might have COVID-19 or are increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19. For her, along with many other students, it’s hard to maintain the 6 feet distance recommended by the CDC, only adding to her worry about the pandemic. 

This is a reality that many face-to-face students experience each day. They arrive at school, wearing a mask and following safety precautions, but the fear never leaves them. Wearing a mask was the security blanket that gave several nervous students a reason to come to school. However, the neglect surrounding COVID-19 safety precautions amidst their peers has embedded fear and uncertainty in students following safety guidelines as set by the school. 

During the last school year, the first few weeks of the COVID-19 closures were extremely stressful and difficult for students, teachers, and parents. For weeks, our newspaper staff struggled to feel normalcy amidst weeks of directionless work. As journalists, a lack of face-to-face communication was disorienting and stunted our creative process. This was the case for not only us but the majority of students at South. What seemed like an “easy enough” online learning transition just gave students anxiety and uncertainty. Students immediately began to panic, wondering if their school year had ended early without the chance to make important memories. But beyond that, students grew fatigued within weeks of online work, leading to a lack of accountability. 

As for this school year, many students chose to attend school to avoid the stress and difficulty associated with online learning. Along with a majority of the other face-to-face students, we hoped to stay in school for as long as possible. As a news publication, working in person alongside the different staff members and editors provided a more efficient way to get articles edited and published. However, if students continue to become lenient when following CDC guidelines, they might not be able to continue coming to school every day. Transitioning from a face-to-face to a virtual platform worries many students who learn better in the actual classroom environment. The face-to-face students hope to avoid the adversity they experienced with online learning, especially after hearing the current experiences of students attending school virtually. 

Students who decided to remain fully or partially online for the semester have experienced the loss of motivation and difficulty staying on task which interrupts the efficient learning students experience in-person. For some online students, it’s hard to process information virtually because it’s not as personal of a learning environment as being face-to-face. Most students prefer to attend school for the social interactions and learning experiences and without those, it’s hard to remain motivated to do schoolwork. A lot of students’ reasoning for remaining online is because of the lack of protocols initiated by the school system that would make them feel safer attending school. If a mask mandate was put in place for Forsyth County, it would help students and parents feel safer about going to school in-person and would help student’s motivation and mental health.

The CDC notes how if masks are used consistently, along with following other mitigation strategies, the spread of COVID-19 will continue to decrease. To continue in-person learning, it is important to mandate masks for students in schools to ensure that regulations are not only followed but followed adequately.  This will not only decrease the fear of many individuals attending school but will also allow virtual students to come back to school sooner than later. Most importantly, the mask mandate for Forsyth County Schools would diminish the negatives that come with complete school closures due to the increase of COVID-19. Students would not be forced to stay at home all the time and attend their classes virtually, an option that many students want to completely avoid due to its consequences.

Possible solutions that don’t require a mandate

Some people have an issue with a mandate because of its controlling aspect; this could be viewed as an extreme measure to take. This mandate would mean forcing every student in Forsyth County to wear a mask. A mandate would be helpful with case numbers, but this is the point where Forsyth County has to choose between power or freedom. A mandate would not encourage non-mask wearers to wear a mask; it would only make students with a different opinion more bitter. A mandate would not innately change minds; it would only provide a more polarized student population.

Additionally, lenience is a big factor when it comes to mandating the usage of masks upon the students. For example, while the dress code is mentioned in the Code of Conduct, it cannot be enforced due to the nature of student expression. Teachers can’t go around with a measuring tape, checking to see if students’ shorts are too short or if their straps are too skinny. The inability to enforce every dress-code violation serves as an example of the impracticality of a strict mask mandate. How would such a mandate be enforced? How long would it last? How would we make sure everyone was wearing a mask at every given moment?

If a mask mandate isn’t feasible, there are several other options for Forsyth County Schools to encourage mask-wearing and provide positive reinforcement for mask wearers. According to the CDC, part of the guidelines for reopening schools is to “Use behavioral techniques such as positive reinforcement to increase the likelihood that students will comply with mask guidance and other prevention practices.” It’s been psychologically proven that positive reinforcement works better as a long-term solution than negative punishment. Instead of forcing students to wear masks which could result in animosity, a simple solution would be to simply provide incentives for doing so.

Telling students that wearing masks is beneficial, singing songs, or hanging posters around the school aren’t enough. Schools could hold raffles for free prom tickets and require masks to enter. And this would not be favoritism or partisanship- in fact, it would be no different than offering a prize for wearing a certain color shirt on spirit days. Mask wearing would still be optional, but the county’s ardor towards the practice would be amplified and therefore spread.

With COVID cases on the rise, people must work together to ensure the safety of each other. Masking up is one of the best solutions to protect the community which is why the mandating of masks should be taken seriously. Students can encourage one another to wear masks to curb the rise of COVID cases. There is the possibility of conversion to online school again which would be detrimental to the mental wellbeing of students and teachers. To help avoid this reversion to stressful online learning, students need to aim to inspire each other to protect the health of their peers, teachers, and families.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece belong solely to their respective author(s). They do not represent the opinions of South Forsyth High School or Forsyth County Schools.