NIEZGODA: Marquette should lift mask mandate

Graphic by Kendal Bell

Graphic by Kendal Bell

As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and COVID-19 cases decrease, the United States, cities and universities across the country are dropping mask mandates. Marquette University should follow suit. 

The University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson announced Feb. 16 that the UW system would be phasing out the indoor mask mandate as soon as March 1 and no later than spring break. This announcement addressed high vaccination rates in students and faculty and the lowering number of cases on college campuses.

This announcement also follows Dane County’s expiring indoor mask mandate March 1, as it will not be renewed. The mask mandate in Milwaukee will end March 1.

Across the UW system, vaccines were required in order for the universities to obtain federal funding in compliance with President Joe Biden’s executive order. This order imposed a vaccine mandate for all federal contractors, individuals who have a contract with the United States government to complete a job. While this was just required of faculty and staff, the UW system expanded this mandate so that all students must have the primary series of the COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 4.

All 13 universities across 26 different campuses, including UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee have a COVID-19 dashboard. These dashboards track infection rates, COVID-19 tests and vaccinations statuses. 

At UW-Milwaukee, the COVID-19 dashboard reports that 91% of the student population is vaccinated and 83% of the faculty and staff are vaccinated.

In comparison, Marquette’s COVID-19 dashboard reports that 94% of students are vaccinated with the primary series and 85% are boosted. As for faculty and staff, 95% of employees have the primary series and 79% are boosted.  

The risks of COVID-19, such as severe illness, hospitalization and death are diminishing, especially among the majority of college-aged students. The rates of hospitalization for 18-29 year-olds are 78.5 per 100,000 cases as of September 2020, a time prior to the widespread availability of vaccines that lower the risk of hospitalization and death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the omicron variant symptoms are generally less severe than prior variants. The vaccine and booster have proved to be 90% effective in preventing hospitalization. Across the country, transmission rates of the omicron variant have dropped by 67% over the past fourteen days.

For those who are vaccinated and boosted, which 82% of Marquette is, the threat of  COVID-19 is diminishing.

If the UW system is lifting their mask mandate, even though their students are not required to be boosted yet, Marquette, which required the booster for the spring semester, should lift it too.  

Major cities and schools in Wisconsin are not the only places that are dropping their mask mandates. New York State, Washington and New Mexico are among the most recent states to drop their indoor mask mandate, including in schools. 

Some Americans have expressed concern over dropping the mask mandate, arguing that it is too soon to be removing all of these restrictions. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to Biden, advised against easing up restrictions too soon in an interview released Feb. 19. He expects the CDC will come out with an update on mask-wearing very soon. 

A majority of college students have not experienced the traditional college experience. Mixed reactions between students consist of worry and excitement regarding the updated mask policy. Lifting the mask mandate proposes the chance of normalcy for students.

If Marquette ends the mask mandate, it is not implying that you should stop wearing your mask.

The students and faculty who are either not vaccinated or immunocompromised should continue to wear well-fitting masks. The CDC recommends N95s for the highest level of protection. If wearing a mask is what makes you comfortable, wear a mask.

The mask mandate should not be an imposed restriction to those to whom COVID-19 poses little threat. Instead, it should be a choice for those who are vaccinated and boosted. 

People want to protect themselves and their communities, but making choices about public health is challenging and involves trade-offs. COVID-19 restrictions can help minimize the threat of COVID-19, but it also has terrible consequences. These consequences, such as mental health problems, lost learning for children and isolation, are immensely damaging to our society. 

Though there are risks to lifting the mask mandate, the benefits outweigh the risks. Lifting the mask mandate is safe given the vaccination status of our community and the declining number of cases on campus.

Marquette should lift its mask mandate, signaling a step into a post-pandemic future.  

This story was written by Laura Niezgoda. She can be reached at laura.niezgoda@marquette.edu