Talk around campus: Mask mandate lift

by Selina Xu and Sally Zhu

Additional reporting by Edward Huang.

With the upper school’s mask mandate lifting last Monday, April 18, students and faculty are no longer required to wear masks indoors, a decision following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s and Santa Clara County’s mask mandate removal in schools on March 11.

The upper school continues to require masking for attending grade or division-wide gatherings, such as school meetings, watching indoor performances and sporting events and taking AP or final exams in venues that have students from across classes. Masking indoors remains strongly encouraged by California policy.

Listen to three students and two teachers discuss their thoughts and opinions on the recent lift and what it means for the school community.

How do you feel in general about the mask mandate being lifted at Harker?

“I feel a sense of relief that we’ll have some options, but at the same time I also think that I’m going to proceed with caution, as I think a lot of my students are feeling as well,” Upper School history and social science teacher Donna Gilbert said.

“I’m feeling pretty okay with it, just because right now a lot of people already when they’re outside take off their mask, right, so it’s not really mandated,” Aaron Bao (9) said. “Also in California it’s not mandated, but because COVID has been coming back whenever we’ve lifted the mask mandate, I’m still a little uneasy about it.”

“I think it’s definitely exciting to see things returning back to somewhat normal, but I think it’s still definitely a little scary and still definitely a little apprehensive seeing cases rise and fall,” Sonya Apsey (10) said. “It’s definitely still a little scary, but it’s exciting.”

“There’s one truth, the truth that this has been a really really hard few years,” Upper school biology teacher Eric Johnson said. “There’s the other truth that the virus is not gone. The virus continues to infect new people. Both of those truths exist at the same time. So as far as what steps to take, I think we have to take steps that hold both those truths.”

Do you have any specific concerns? 

“I think it’s just a question of how things are going to go after just because we’ve seen so many cases of COVID, and wanting to keep everybody safe but still wanting to return to a state of normalcy and and have our economy go back to normal and and everything happening along with the health effects of the pandemic,” Kavita Murthy (12) said. 

“The main thing we can do to prevent the spread of this disease is to wear masks, right, that’s my fundamental belief is that that’s the main thing we can do to stop this spread,” Johnson said. “Right now, I think to remove the mask mandate is to take a step forward without really fully understanding all of the nuances of people who are immunocompromised.”

Will you continue wearing your mask at all times, continue wearing it but take it off more frequently or completely stop wearing it? For teachers, will you require masks in classrooms?

“I’ll probably continue wearing my mask majority of the time, but I’ll probably start eating indoors a little bit more often, especially on colder days or hotter days,” Sonya said.

“I think what I’m going to do is follow the lead of my students,” Gilbert said. “So as I’ve already done, sort of taking a quick poll to see how many people are going to continue to wear their masks once the mask mandate’s lifted, and it seems about 75% of my students are still going to continue to wear masks, which means they have a certain amount of concern. So I’m going to follow that lead and continue to mask as well. I mean, there may be moments outside where I might remove it a little bit more often, or maybe if I’m at my desk and I’m a good six feet away, just to have a sip of water or have a snack, I might feel a little more comfortable removing it. But other than that, I’m going to follow their lead. ”

“I’m a firm believer of providing my students with an understanding of the biology, an understanding of the ethics, an understanding of what is the knowledge they need, empowering them with that knowledge and then allowing them to make that decision. The same way that I have this understanding of people beyond myself and want to take care of those folks, my students have agency to make that decision themselves.” 

“I think I will probably be taking it off more often, but I think that also depends on how the people in my class and the people around me feel, because if they all take off their masks there’s really not any point for me to wear it, and if they want to keep it on I’ll probably keep it on as well,” Aaron said.

Are you glad about this step to “return to normal”? 

“I think, yeah, I think it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to have social things,” Kavita said. “Personally for me as a senior, I’m really excited that we get to have prom, and also the things we haven’t been able to do in past years like senior trip, and so getting to do things like that is really special, even if the masks are still there because we know we’re keeping everybody healthy.” 

“I hope that it’s back to normal but I kind of think we’re going to be living with COVID for a while,” Gilbert said. “But hopefully with less anxiety and fear about it. And hopefully fewer people will be hurt in the way they have, because there’s been so much trauma imposed by COVID, it’s been awful, so that part I’m really excited about.”