Opinion: Lifting the mask mandate will be deadly

Breanna Hart

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our lives for a full year now. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, their houses, their security, their loved ones and their lives.

Weber State University Nursing Student, Necia Wallenmeyer administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Lorna Ricks, Tuesday Mar. 16, 2021, in Ogden, Utah. (Brooklynn Kilgore/The Signpost)
Weber State University nursing student Necia Wallenmeyer administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Lorna Ricks, Tuesday Mar. 16, in Ogden, Utah. (Brooklynn Kilgore/The Signpost)

The CDC recommends people wear masks in public settings and anywhere that they will be around people. From the very beginning when this guideline was put in place, people have been fighting it tooth and nail.

We’ve all seen the viral videos of the people in supermarkets refusing to leave the store to put on a mask, and some of these incidents escalate to physical assault on employees just trying to do their jobs and enforce the rules and guidelines that have been put in place. There have been various posts about how wearing masks “violates” someone’s constitutional rights, to which I roll my eyes.

Now, I understand why people don’t like wearing masks. Personally, I think they can be uncomfortable and annoying, but what I don’t understand is the blatant disregard and disrespect for those around you. The masks aren’t necessarily for your protection, but for other people’s protection. As much as I don’t like the way masks feel, I still wear mine every time I’m around people I don’t live with because I don’t know if I have COVID, and I don’t want to give it to someone else if it just so happens that I’m asymptomatic.

Just the other day I was in a coffee shop, and there was a man who was walking around the shop, visiting with other patrons, marketing his business by handing out cards. When he got to me, I noticed he wasn’t wearing a mask, which I found annoying but also didn’t connect right away. I let him go ahead of me in line and overheard the barista telling him she could not serve him if he didn’t have a mask on.

He proceeded to argue with her, claiming he had “just forgotten it in his car” and “couldn’t she just hurry and make his drink, he wouldn’t be in the shop long.” She again told him he needed to wear a mask, or he wouldn’t be served. He didn’t like this answer so he continued to argue. It wasn’t until another barista came over and told the man to leave, or he would put in a report that the man stopped arguing. Finally the man turned around, looked at me and said “you can go ahead, they’re harassing me.”

This whole situation was ridiculous. The man knew he needed to have a mask on; there were signs everywhere saying the coffee shop required them. We’re a whole year into this pandemic. Putting on a mask isn’t that hard, and it doesn’t harm anyone to wear one.

Weber State is offering COVID-19 testing in Ballroom C of the Shephard Union Building in Ogden, Utah, on Nov. 10, 2020. (BriElle Harker / The Signpost)
Weber State is offering COVID-19 testing in Ballroom C of the Shephard Union Building in Ogden, Utah, on Nov. 10. (BriElle Harker / The Signpost) Photo credit: Signpost Archives

This scene, only one of many across the country, made me realize, though, that with the rate of vaccines going up and the amount of cases going down, we’re going to start seeing this behavior even more often, especially because Gov. Spencer Cox is most likely going to go forward and sign a bill that would end the statewide mask mandate on April 10.

States all across the U.S. have been lifting their mask mandates as more people are getting vaccinated, and Utah is slated to be one of the latest ones to do so. The Utah legislature has already passed this law and is just waiting for Cox to sign the bill. Originally, the mandate would have been lifted immediately after Cox signed the bill, but Cox told Deseret News he pushed for April 10 as it allowed more people to be vaccinated.

I still think that April 10 is far too early. Our positive case rate has been dropping significantly, but there are still too many people who haven’t had the chance to be fully vaccinated yet. This will lead to another rise in cases like the one we saw over the winter holidays and are now just recovering from.

Cox said this bill would still make it mandatory for schools K-12 to require masks and businesses can still require them as they want to as well. But still, it would just be better to keep the original mandate and not lift it before the original end date of July 1. This would allow ample time for the majority of people to get vaccinated, which lowers our risk of having a massive spike in cases again and would allow us to better avoid a third wave of cases.

This new bill feels irresponsible and rushed. I understand that everyone is tired of the pandemic and all the protocols that have been put in place, but we also need to tread carefully about how fast we begin softening these protocols and mandates. If we stop requiring masks and social distancing too soon, everything will go to Hell, and we will see a huge spike in cases and deaths.

COVID-19 tests are administered and tested at Weber State University on Nov. 10, 2020. (BriElle Harker / The Signpost)
COVID-19 tests are administered at Weber State University on Nov. 10. (BriElle Harker / The Signpost) Photo credit: Signpost Archives

Granted, it might not be as high as it would be without vaccines, but are we really willing to take that risk? Are we really willing to risk spending another year in this pandemic? And are we really ready to risk new variants emerging and killing another half million people?

Right now is a crucial moment in this pandemic. Vaccines are being rolled out successfully; our cases are significantly down. If we become too lax too soon, we’re going to regret it, and it will haunt us just as the holiday season did for months.

Cox has until March 25 to decide if he is going to sign or veto the bill, and while it doesn’t look like he’s going to veto it, he needs to in order to keep all of us safe.

Vaccines for anyone 16 and older are going to be made available starting March 24, so if Cox vetoes this bill, or even pushes the date back a month or two, then that gives us plenty of time to ramp up vaccination distribution and get more out to people, leaving us in a better position.

Over 500,000 people have already died in the U.S. from COVID-19. Isn’t that enough? Wasn’t one enough? Why does our legislature believe that it isn’t? We should be taking every precaution we can for as long as we can to protect those who have survived this past year and honor those who haven’t.