Why wear a mask in 2023?
By Rodshi Taiyabah
Youthcast Media Group®
Getting ready for school before 7 a.m. is always a rush. I’m usually exhausted. I pack my bag and rush out the door, but not before I grab the most important thing I’ve put on: my mask.
Walking into class, I look around and I’m the only one wearing a mask. But even though I feel a bit alone and out of place, and used to hate wearing a mask, now it's something I don’t think I could go without.
Eating lunch in the cafeteria is the time I feel the most comfortable taking off my mask. Even so, I finish my meal quickly, putting my mask right back on.
I wear a mask for two reasons: to protect myself, and my family. And while it was much easier to do when my friends and teachers were wearing them too, I don’t think I’ll stop any time soon.
Since the start of the 2022-2023 school year, there’s been a significant decrease in the usage of masks – only 15% of schools required mask wearing at the start of the 2022 school year, compared to 85% of schools the year before, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) banned school mask mandates after entering office in 2022. Across the country, the number of students wearing masks has fallen dramatically, according to The Washington Post.
At Annandale High School, where I’m a junior, I’m one of only about a few hundred (out of 2,200) who still wear a mask. Very few teachers wear masks, either.
Last year, many students and teachers, like me, wore a mask the majority of the time. It was only until the last few months of the school year that people slowly let go of masks – around the time the CDC only recommended universal masking in schools in communities where case levels and hospitalizations were high.
I was initially very hesitant about the idea of wearing a mask– and wearing it for eight hours a day worried me. Yet it was much easier to resign myself to wearing one to keep my health safe as long as friends and family wore them too.
Now, I see less and less concern for a mask as time goes on, and many of my friends have also decided to go mask-free. I’m very much in the minority, and it’s really uncomfortable at times. It’s easier to fit in rather than stand out in high school.
As everyone else returns to the normalcy that existed pre-pandemic, I wonder if I should continue wearing a mask. I feel that urge to go back to normal, but the uncertainty of what will happen lingers. It’s been the hardest part of still wearing a mask.
So why do I persist? To me, the safety of my family (and me) in terms of health is more important than discomfort. Since I was young, I didn’t really have the strongest immune system – I’d always be sick and staying at home. I worry about how I’d fare if I got COVID.
I also worry about the burden on my parents if I were to bring COVID into the house – they both work every day and it would be very difficult for them to take time off their work if my sister or I got sick. I wouldn’t want to burden my family with all of that, so I’ve adapted to this change.
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I’m sure I’ll continue to debate whether I should wear a mask or not. Someday I might stop. Maybe I’ll always wear one.
For now, though, the pandemic still isn’t over for me.
Rodshi Taiyabah is a rising senior at Annandale High School in Annandale, Va. She wrote this piece in collaboration with Youthcast Media Group, a non-profit that trains high school students of color in journalism.