Clairmont: We must stay focused on positive future after reinstatement of mask mandate

OSU Public Safety Officer, Nic Morrell working during the summer amongst the new mask requirements at the Cascades campus in Bend, Ore. OSU-Cascades follows the main campus in requiring face coverings in all public indoor settings for students and faculty alike.

Kimberly Clairmont, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This column does not represent the opinion of The Daily Barometer. This column reflects the personal opinions of the writer.

As many students have become increasingly frustrated with remote learning, mask mandates and social distancing, focusing on the optimistic future rather than the dispiriting present will inspire unification. 

Due to the circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, high levels of transmission and increased risk of infection for vulnerable populations warranted Oregon State University’s mask mandate in all public indoor facilities.

OSU Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dan Larson stated that enforcing the mandate was paramount to the university’s ability to keep students and staff members safe. 

“Continued vigilance is critical as we plan for a return in the fall to a more typical on-site experience, and a potential relaxation of the face covering requirement, if conditions allow,” Larson said in a statement in early August. 

For some students, wearing a mask is a small sacrifice to make for the greater good. 

Julissa Rivera-Ray, a senior studying public health and sociology at OSU, said, “Personally, I am focusing on the science and human lives that have been lost to this virus. I am lucky to be alive after everything that has happened and to simply be required to wear a mask and get a vaccine.”

Even still, the new policy is prompting feelings of burnout and bitterness from those wanting to make personal choices about their health and safety. To some students, the mandate merely seems like an indicator that OSU will not be fully opening campus to students in the fall, despite university leaders saying that on-campus classes and activities will function as planned for the time being.

The thought of losing another academic year to the pandemic’s will frustrates everyone affected, but while the shared resentment for the “new normal” continues, it doesn’t mean resentment for one another must persist. 

Because policies such as mask mandates have been so politicalized over the past year and a half, many of those who are opposing or in favor of the vaccines and masks have configured an “us versus them” mentality.

Matthew Smedley is one of many returning OSU students who believe wearing a mask should be a personal choice saying, “I don’t think there should be a mask mandate in place at all… I think if someone is still wary of the idea of being in a room and thinks they have a good chance of getting COVID-19, then they should take it upon themselves to keep themselves safe and wear the mask accordingly.”

Despite Smedley’s negative feelings towards the new policy reform, he said, “I’m willing to do it just so we can finally go back to school in person. I would wish we still had the personal choice of what to do when it comes to our health and our lives in general…” 

Smedley’s philosophy regarding the university’s requirements in spite of his personal feelings on the matter is inspiring. One thing remains clear: In order to survive this pandemic, we must unite, set aside our personal feelings on policies and do what is asked of us.

Finding common ground and a great sense of compassion for everyone dealing with their own unique struggles is something we must try to consider and work towards as the new academic year approaches. 

Kelsey Burroughs, a junior at OSU studying design and innovation management, sympathizes with those opposing the mask mandate. 

I also feel this frustration at times, but also know that this is an unprecedented time we are in and things are always changing,” Burroughs said. “At the end of the day, if continuing to wear a mask again means that we are one step closer to the end of this, the simple mask will be well worth it.” 

Burroughs emphasizes the importance of listening to public health officials, saying, “Experts have emphasized how important and vital masks are, and mask-wearing has proven time and time again to be effective, which means it is the right thing to do in order to get out of this pandemic.”

No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we are still in this together. Having each other can give us the reassurance we need to carry on, and being a part of the Corvallis community means that we respect everyone’s opinions whether or not they are consistent with our own.

Reinstating the mask mandate is not something everyone is happy about, but if we are going to continue to stay strong this fall and look to our bright future, we are going to need to listen, support and respect everyone in the Oregon State community.