I’m not on campus this semester. I’m studying abroad in Denmark, where there are no COVID-19 restrictions. I haven’t worn a mask in months, and haven’t thought anything of it. I’m maskless when I ride crowded trains, go out to restaurants, and even when I went to a packed concert with hundreds of people. Denmark is 75 percent vaccinated — with those numbers increasing every day — and life has completely returned to normal here.
On paper, St. Olaf is better off than Denmark. St. Olaf is 97 percent vaccinated, has a low infection rate, and has testing readily available. I know that those numbers are different in Rice County, in Minnesota, and in the U.S., but I’m writing this about St. Olaf, more specifically about the recent policy change that no longer requires masks to be worn by students or staff on campus.
It’s possible I’m misreading the COVID-19 situation on campus from the other side of the Atlantic, but from what I’ve seen through social media, some people are not happy that the mask mandate at St. Olaf was lifted. I know some have left their masks on and some are upset that others have elected to remove their masks.
The promise of returning to a so-called normal pre-pandemic world has been driving everyone to make it through the past year. You have that opportunity now, and I don’t understand why you would reject it, or be upset that others are embracing it. The mask mandate hasn’t been lifted because people are sick of masking, the mandate has been lifted because it is now safe to do so.
Masks were a tangible way to see and feel that we were all doing something to block the spread of COVID-19, while vaccines are invisible. This new kind of protection isn’t something we can easily spot on other people, and we don’t have a way to feel and see reassurance on our faces every day. I know it’s nerve-wracking to lose that sense of safety, but we can return to normal now. Vaccination rates are high, infection rates are down, and the authorities have made the call to take off their masks. What are you waiting for?
If you want to continue to wear a mask, that is your choice and that needs to be respected, but with where we stand now, I would encourage you to embrace the new policy and breathe freely again on campus. If you go off campus into an area with a higher risk of infection, definitely wear a mask. If you might have been exposed, get tested. If you’re not able to be vaccinated, exercise more caution. Please continue to look out for your community, but recognize that you no longer have to always wear a mask in order to do that. I hope someday soon we are all comfortable enough to breathe freely again.