USC's COVID-19 policies should reflect the need to continue wearing masks in indoor areas, such as academic buildings and research spaces, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to high-risk individuals.
USC updated its COVID-19 policies on March 17 by making wearing masks optional across campus, except in medical facilities, the School of Medicine, COVID-19 testing sites and public transportation.
Dr. Jason Stacy, the head of USC's University Health Services, said recent low case numbers on campus were the reasoning behind the recent mask mandate update.
He also said the CDC has been monitoring Richland County levels and said the level of cases has shifted to low, meaning that the mask-optional update on campus would be in accordance with the CDC guidelines. The most recent data from the CDC says that Richland County has 20.2 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.
Although the number of cases has gone down, we should still strive for a safe environment for everyone at USC. Wearing a mask indoors is still safer for people who are immunocompromised, disabled, pregnant or who regularly interact with high-risk individuals.
Face masks are still important for public health, as Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said in an interview with TODAY.
"Along with vaccines, frequent testing, increased ventilation and other measures, face masks are part of an effective layered strategy to help prevent the spread of COVID-19," Omer told TODAY.
The university should still strive to protect its community as much as possible — there are more advantages to keeping the masks than disadvantages.
Wearing a face mask brings fewer COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations and death, according to the Baylor College of Medicine. If we can reduce the amount of these events occurring by simply wearing a mask, we should keep the mandate.
This practice would be especially important for people on campus who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others, like those who are immunocompromised.
One such student is Sofia Guerrero, a second-year biomedical engineering student. Guerrero said the new mask regulation is unsafe for many students.
"By removing the mask mandate the university has increased everyone's risk of getting COVID, and also, they have essentially sentenced immunocompromised and disabled students to having to risk their lives every single time they go to class, which is unacceptable," Guerrero said.
The mask-optional change also places unfair pressure on immunocompromised and disabled students, according to Guerrero.
"I also feel like the university is expecting immunocompromised and disabled students to bear the full burden of public health measures by themselves," Guerrero said. "If I'm the only one masking in my classes and everyone around me is still talking, spitting, coughing — whatever — my risk of catching COVID is high ... by removing the mask mandate, the university has directly put my life in danger."
Even students without extra vulnerability should still be careful, both for themselves and their classmates.
"Yes, I want us not to have the masks, but at the same time, you have others who are at risk and just having the mask on, I feel like, is more of a respect thing if you know somebody who is at risk," first-year geology student Kyla Conyers said. "It's mixed emotions. I still wear mine. Cause if I have family members who are at risk and I would want to be respectful."
Although the university has done a good job keeping the numbers low on campus, it is unfair for immunocompromised and disabled individuals to work their way around the mask optional update. The university should keep the mask mandate to protect the community in its entirety.
We should try our best to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 to high-risk individuals at USC by wearing our masks.