Times are changing: Loudoun County students can go unmasked

Juniors Laysha Ricci and Amber Owens work together in their Study Hall. Photo by Olivia DeWan.

Juniors Laysha Ricci and Amber Owens work together in their Study Hall. Photo by Olivia DeWan.

On April 30, 2020, Americans were encouraged by the CDC to wear a mask in order to combat the spread of COVID 19. For the last two years the bottom half of faces were unseen, but on February 16, 2022 the Loudoun County School Board announced that mask requirements will be lifted as well as all social distancing policies. 

Circuit Court Judge James E. Fisher granted an emergency injunction on February 16 to a family who was suing the School Board in regards to the masking policy. Students had begun to be suspended from school for not wearing a mask. The school division reported over 21 suspensions according to an article in The Loudoun Now called “Youngkin, Miyares, Loudoun Family Win Court Case Over Mask Mandate.”

Glenn Youngkin signed into law a bill that lifted the mask mandate, and included an emergency clause that made this bill effective no later than March 1. 

Then, the family who was suing the School Board won, and the date for masks being optional was moved up to February 22. Families received a call from public information officer Wayde Byard on February 21, informing them of the late-breaking update on masking. 

“Today is a great day for Virginia’s parents and kids,” Youngkin said in a released statement celebrating the signing of the bill. “Not only did we pass a bipartisan bill empowering parents to opt-out of school mask mandates, but also the Loudoun Circuit Court reaffirmed parents’ rights to have a say in their child’s health, education, care, and wellbeing.”

Masking has been an issue of contention from the beginning of the pandemic. Since February 2020, the US Surgeon General and the CDC have made rapid and somewhat contradictory changes. 

In February of 2020, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams announced that masks did not, in fact, prevent Covid 19. 

Again, in March of 2020, the CDC said that healthy people who are not actively working in health centers did not need to wear masks. 

Then, in April, the CDC changed their ruling, declaring that masks were effective against Covid 19.

On January 20th President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring masks in federal buildings. 

In March of 2021, the CDC declared it was fine for fully vaccinated citizens to shed masks at indoor gatherings.

At LCPS a hybrid option for school was implemented last winter, and masks were required inside the school buildings. Later, when opened for full in-person learning on January 3, 2021, masks were also required. 

With the rapidly-changing policies regarding masking, many students and faculty were worried that there would be animosity between the masked and unmasked students. 

“I think our school has really taken it well,” junior Alyna Jasin said. “No one has been judgemental about people wearing or not wearing masks.”

I took an informal mask count by tallying students in my B day classes who chose to wear a mask or not. On March 2, in Nicolas Guglielmo’s 5th block personal finance class, 8 out of 17 students were not wearing masks. Block 6 in Paige Illig’s AP Language class, 9 out of 26 students did not wear masks. 7th block during Richard Ricci’s advanced functions class, 14 out of 21 students did not wear masks. Finally, in Stacie Leonard’s academic chemistry class, 13 out of 20 students did not wear masks. 

The count does not include students who were wearing masks incorrectly according to the CDC’s guidelines, only students who had completely taken their masks off. Those who were wearing masks incorrectly were counted as mask wearers because of the physical presence of a mask. 

“If masks are so good, why is everyone [the CDC] changing what they think about them?” Dunn said. “First they say that one mask is enough, then you have to wear two, and then they don’t want you to wear masks at all unless you’re sick.”

An article provided by Dunn called “CDC Says N95 masks provide the most protection against COVID-19” written by Lexi Lonas stated that the only masks that were truly effective against COVID-19 were N95 masks due to their “filtering facepiece respirators.”

The CDC says that cloth masks are the least protective, which appear to be some of the more popular masks present in schools. 

This study is also backed by the Harvard School for Public Health where William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology, told a publication called “The Atlantic” that surgical masks are like a sturdy, well-made umbrella, while cloth masks are more like a cheap umbrella that turns inside out.

However, some students feel more comfortable with a mask. 

“I understand why masks are optional and that everyone is very done with masks, myself included,” senior Gracie Hawkins said. “Seeing we are in an area with such high vaccination rates it’s fine with me. However, I will continue to wear mine as I have high risk family members.”

Regardless of what students’ personal beliefs are, most seem to be respectful of others’ opinions.

“Your choice is your choice,” Hawkins said. “I have been thanked by another student for wearing a mask, but from my experience no one has said anything to me for wearing a mask and I haven’t said anything to those not wearing one.”

Other students are in agreement. 

“I think that students should definitely be able to have a choice,” Junior Anna Takemoto said. “I also think that there are people who could be more careful, so I will continue to wear my own mask.”

According to Takemoto there have been some arguments, but the unrest that was expected with the bill did not happen, and that came as a relief to many students. 

“I think masks being optional is a huge step in the right direction,” Jasin said. “I am really happy to see that things are going back to normal.”