The RRISD Updated Mask Mandate Needs to be Strictly Enforced



Amid rising COVID-19 case counts and the emergence of the Delta variant, the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) enforced a mandate requiring all students, staff, and faculty to wear a mask. Photo courtesy of Thirdman.

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, the Round Rock Independent School District  (RRISD) announced that all students, faculty, and visitors would be required to wear a mask unless they show proof of a health or developmental concern. This came just over a week after the district enforced a temporary mask mandate with a “no questions asked” opt-out clause.

This stricter mandate was the right decision in order to lessen the spread of COVID-19 in schools and ensure that in-person learning could continue. RRISD has seen hundreds of positive COVID-19 cases and thousands of close contacts. As a student and as someone with a vaccine-ineligible brother, these statistics terrify me. While I am vaccinated, it scares me every day to be around those who remain unmasked. My worst nightmare is finding out that my brother got sick because I had to be around people who refused to wear a mask. They put others at risk every day for no discernible reason besides their own comfort and convenience.

When understanding why wearing a mask is necessary for schools, it’s important to understand the recent statistics surrounding COVID-19 transmission. In late June, when vaccines were readily available to the general adult population and the Pfizer vaccine had been approved for 12 to 15-year-olds, the weekly average of reported cases was around 12,000. After I became fully vaccinated, I remember feeling almost liberated when I got to see my close friends without a mask for the first time in over 15 months. Unfortunately, the current average for early September is 148, 538 new cases per week. For context, there were 300,777 new cases reported on Friday, Jan. 8, which was the peak in the U.S. While we haven’t quite reached that number, the data is on an upward trajectory. The emergence of the Delta variant has taken an extreme toll, especially on the unvaccinated population. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended wearing a mask to lessen the spread of COVID-19. This is especially applicable now with the heightened infection rate due to the more transmissible variant. Wearing a mask has been proven to reduce exposure to respiratory droplets and large particles. Despite this information, I was surprised to discover that a substantial percentage of students had opted out of wearing a mask.

I was genuinely curious why some people, who I previously thought were generally responsible, chose not to wear masks. The people I talked to gave reasons such as “They’re uncomfortable,” “I don’t want to,” or even “They don’t work.” Each of these claims is easily disputable, and it all comes down to them being too self-centered to consider other people’s needs. I agree that masks aren’t always extremely comfortable. Wearing a piece of fabric on your face all day in the scorching Texas heat is inconvenient and annoying at times. When I come home from school each day, my ears are sore from the chafing straps of the mask. However, these minor inconveniences are a small price to pay for the reassurance that I’m doing everything I can to protect myself and those around me. As for simply “not wanting to wear a mask,” that seems like a lazy and ignorant thing to say. Do they have an actual reason, or are they just mindlessly following the opinions of their family and friends without regard for other people’s safety? And lastly, “They don’t work.” This argument can easily be put to rest using facts. The CDC and countless other reputable medical sources have reinforced the idea that masks greatly reduce the spread of the virus. When I speak to doctors and nurses that I know personally, it pains me to see the exhaustion and weariness they are undergoing from the stress of handling COVID-19 patients. If we all do our part to wear masks and keep each other safe, it would significantly reduce the pressure that they are under. In addition, when you look at the worsening situation in other countries, it is frankly embarrassing that there are debates here over the rudimentary concept of whether we should be wearing masks or not. For example, the third wave of outbreaks is predicted to hit India in October. Vaccine distribution has not been as widespread there and in many other countries, and the virus has devastated the population. It infuriates me that while there are others struggling so much, there are people here who won’t simply put on a mask to protect themselves and others.

To be clear, I am not referring to those with medical reasons not to wear a mask. Even the updated mask mandate accounts for those people, and I fully understand the intent behind it. However, there are countless kids who walk through the bustling hallways and attend classes where they are within a few feet of others without a mask, despite their lack of medical and developmental issues. I understand that not all of these conditions are perceivable from one glance, but I see at least ten maskless kids in the hallway on my short walk from fifth to sixth block, and it’s hard to believe they all have issues that warrant not wearing a mask. 

Overall, I think this mandate was a step in the right direction for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools. With the emergence of the Delta variant and the drastic rise in cases, particularly in the unvaccinated population, it is imperative that we wear masks to keep each other safe. I expect to see it being strictly enforced, and I hope it will encourage students and staff to continue to be responsible so we can keep in-person learning safe.