Mask Breaks: Necessity or Risk?

Emel Barry, Reporter

  Do you remember when seeing all of your friends’ faces at school was normal? Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many changes in the ways that we go about our daily routines. One of the most drastic changes that our society has had to conform to is the use of face coverings while in public.

 With the reopening of schools this year, wearing a mask inside of the school building is one of many guidelines that students and staff must follow in order to maintain a safe and healthy environment during these times. But let’s be honest, nobody enjoys wearing them. It can get sweaty, itchy, uncomfortable, and distracting for all of us,and no one likes masks (mask acne).  Many teachers are allowing their students to take short 5-minute  “mask breaks” during classes, but is this necessary, or too risky? 

The use of face masks is one of many strategies that are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. Scientists agree that it might just be the most important thing to be doing during this time, along with maintaining social distancing and sanitizing. If two people come into close contact with each other, but are wearing proper face coverings, the risk of either of them catching or spreading the virus is very low, compared to if they were not wearing a mask. The CDC stated that “Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice.” It has been proven that face masks prevent droplets from being spread from person to person, or from person to surface.

 COVID-19 can be spread just by breathing.  According to Harvey Fineberg, Ph.D., M.D., chairman of a committee with the National Academy of Sciences, “While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing.” We know that students are obviously going to breathe and possibly even talk while taking a break from their mask. So, is taking off that mask for a few minutes during class really worth the risk?

If you are a fully remote student this year, like myself, you are probably wondering how teachers and students are handling these mask breaks. A big concern would be whether or not students are taking rules regarding mask wearing seriously. “In my experience thus far, students, faculty and staff have done a great job of adhering to the guidance,” said principal Mr. Richardt. 

Even though we are all united as a school district, each of us have our own opinions regarding what is going on in the world and how things should be handled. Most teachers can agree that wearing masks is extremely important, but difficult for students, and even themselves, at times. “I do agree that it [allowing mask breaks]is a choice a teacher should have. Some may be less comfortable with the idea than others,” said math teacher Mrs. Sweeney. During in-class instruction, mask breaks can be helpful for students who have a hard time focusing. “I think it’s something that the students need,” she added. “I usually allow them once a period when I remember.” Although we have been wearing masks in public for many months now, we are still adapting to it every day, especially in a school environment. 

As we approach the upcoming winter months, a big concern of many is the preparation for COVID-19 to spread like wildfire once again. In the past few weeks, there have already been many new cases in a few local school districts, including Hampton Bays. Many students and teachers have become more cautious, and some students and families are even switching to fully remote learning for the time being in order to ease their concerns. 

Social studies teacher Mrs. McAulay said, “I am obviously very concerned about the new cases of COVID. I have actually had fewer requests for mask breaks as students are concerned as well.” There is only so much we can do to protect ourselves and our peers at this time, and it seems like more students are now doing whatever they can to be safe. 

“I have noticed that less are taking breaks the past few days,” said social studies teacher Mrs. Russo. 

As of right now, the allowed mask breaks have been going smoothly and have not raised any serious concerns, but this could eventually change. 

Mr. Richardt said, “I think we have a strong plan that is focused on keeping everyone safe.  Our plan contains steadfast elements and provisions for flexibility, which are necessary for safety and effective teaching and learning. We are constantly re-assessing our plan in an effort to improve.”