March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, the world has shifted and adapted to the changes that COVID-19 brought with it. Wearing masks has been one of the biggest changes for many people, and incorporating masks into our daily life has created a stark contrast to the world that we lived in before the pandemic.
In the U.S., some people have been hesitant to accept mask wearing. Even in Floyd County, not every establishment has a mask policy that requires masks to be worn while inside. But at Berry, masks are the norm. Students wear masks during our day-to-day schedule, and in the short time of one year, students cannot imagine a day when masks are not worn all the time.
In areas of the world like Asia, masks have been part of their routines far before the pandemic happened. According to international news site Voice of America (VOA) News, “face mask culture” began with the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and it has persisted since then. One of the main reasons that people from Asia wear masks, besides preventing the spread of COVID-19, is to protect against the heavy air pollution. When air pollution levels increase in South Korea and China, masks are worn to prevent the inhalation of microdust. According to BBC News, microdust is a fine dust that is composed of sand from the Chinese and Mongolian deserts. The microdust can pick up other pollutants, including carcinogens, and negatively impact respiratory health.
People in Asia even incorporated masks into their daily wear before 2020 as fashion statements or as a way to prevent their faces from being seen when they were not wearing makeup, according to VOA News.
The ease in which mask-wearing can be incorporated into our daily lives has been thwarted in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic. Politics, our individualistic ideas, constitutional rights and personal freedom have allowed masks to seem optional. Americans have also debated whether or not the government should be allowed to mandate face coverings, and state governments have struggled to effectively implement and enforce face covering mandates.
The stark truth is that even when a face covering is required in a store, patrons might still refuse to wear one. Whether this inconsistency is due to employees not enforcing the rule or the establishment not truly caring about the mandate is still to be determined.
With the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, mask wearing could experience a pushback yet again. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends wearing a face mask and following all social distancing guidelines even after receiving the vaccine. The CDC states that even after receiving the COVID- 19 vaccine, recipients may still be able to spread the virus regardless of whether they experience symptoms. Research has yet to determine when or if vaccinated individuals will be able to stop wearing masks.
The world after the COVID-19 pandemic will be different, and the inclusion of masks into our culture may continue long after the pandemic. The U.S. may follow in the steps of countries in Asia and incorporate masks into our daily life. Regardless of what happens after the pandemic, the research shows that mask wearing is going to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. As part of this, every Berry community member needs to participate. Like President Steve Briggs pointed out in the Week 3 Update email, Berry has some work to do. Even when on campus, students have difficulties keeping their masks on. Despite the frequent testing and increased safety protocols, COVID-19 could still run rampant through our population. Ultimately, masks are required on-campus, and no matter your personal stance, they must be worn to protect the “Berry Bubble.”