Students, staff react to PAUSD lifting mask mandate

Leena Hussein, Senior Staff Writer

Junior Kylie Tzeng walks on campus of Palo Alto High School while wearing a mask during lunch. Superintendent Don Austin announced the mandate on indoor masking will be lifted beginning Friday this week. Tzeng said she hopes students will continue to take precautions regarding the spread of COVID-19. “I think it’s great that we’re starting to go back to normal,” Tzeng said. “But I also think people shouldn’t forget that we are still in a pandemic. And while the cases are lowering and we’re getting better, that doesn’t mean you can just completely let down your guard.” (Photo: Daniel Garepis-Holland)

With Palo Alto High School’s indoor mask requirement set to end on March 11, students and staff are expressing mixed opinions on whether the lift should be welcomed.

After over two years of the mask mandate in Palo Alto, State Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Ghaly said the state decided to drop the mask mandate in schools due to the 66% drop in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks and decreased hospitalization. According to PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin, students and staff will still have the option whether to wear masks indoors or not.

Some students, including senior Yubin Zhang, are prepared for the return to pre-COVID life.

“I personally like that the mask mandate is being lifted … and I plan on not wearing it [a mask] in class anymore,” Zhang said.To me it was just a matter of time; sooner or later we were going to have to move back to normal because that’s generally how the public’s opinion has been shifting.” 

Sophomore Austin Eng said the high vaccination rate of Paly students will make him feel more comfortable when the masking restriction drops this week .

“As someone who has a parent who is high risk [for COVID-19], it is important to me that people feel comfortable being at school when the mask mandate lifts,” Eng said. “However, with the majority of high school students being triple vaccinated, I do feel more comfortable if there was a future outbreak at Paly.”

PAUSD updated its safety measures last school year, installing HVAC systems and Merv 13 filters in all classrooms to stop the spread of COVID-19 particles. According to Librarian Sima Thomas, these measures have helped make the library feel safer.

I’m fine with it [the lifted mask mandate], especially being in the library,” Thomas said. “I feel like the library is a pretty big space with really great ventilation. Students naturally sit spaced out in their friend groups, so there’s a lot of natural safety built into our space which is nice.” 

Despite the added safety precautions, sophomore Betsabe Acosta said she doesn’t support dropping the mask mandate at this time. 

“I think it’s just a matter of safety precautions because even when the mask mandate was still in place, some people weren’t wearing their mask properly or didn’t really care,” Acosta said. “I’m a bit scared that some people are going to be sick and still be coming to school, so removing the mandate would make me feel like there could be an increase in cases.”

Santa Clara County is the last county in the Bay Area to lift the indoor mask mandate, and the seven-day average case count has dropped to 258 cases per day. However, junior Kylie Tzeng said the lifted mask mandate at Paly feels rushed.

“We only have two months of school, so I feel like it would be a better thing to implement that [the lifted masking mandate] into the next school year, rather than just trying to squeeze it in with the last two months and force everything to go back to normal,” Tzeng said.

Eng said although masking restrictions are dropping, going back to “normal” won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic.

“I feel like the term ‘normal’ is different now because of the pandemic, and wearing masks should be normalized indoors,” Eng said. “People in other countries around the world wear masks on the daily in public crowded places to avoid getting sick even from the common cold.”

According to Zhang, students should continue to take additional safety precautions to avoid catching any sickness, especially without the protection of masks.

“We should continue to use other safety precautions such as using hand sanitizer or try to not go to a lot of big events such as concerts, so we’re not asking to get the virus,” Zhang said.

Thomas said the lifted mask mandate should still remain flexible as variants could emerge in the coming months.

“Masks help reduce transmission,” Thomas said. “So through months of heavy transmission, it would make sense to just put them back on and then when there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, we’ll be able to take them off again.”