On Monday the 31st January the Office of the Provost and Deputy President of UL sent an email to all students detailing the new COVID-19 regulations on campus. In the email, the office confirmed that mask-wearing and social distancing are no longer legal requirements for staff and students.
The Office of the Provost and Deputy President said: “In line with Public Health guidelines about the wearing of face coverings in certain circumstances, the University continues to advise the use of face-coverings in teaching spaces. However, face-coverings are no longer mandatory for staff or students in UL buildings.”
The office stated that based on individual circumstances, students or staff may still decide to continue wearing face-coverings.
As wearing a face-covering in public places has been a necessary provision in the fight against COVID-19 for nearly two years, I was interested to see the reaction from students in UL at the sudden jettison of the rule.
I left a question box on my Instagram story on Tuesday, where students could submit their reaction the news. I expected that this would be a contentious issue, so for this article, their responses will remain anonymous.
My DMs were flooded with a litany of messages of varying length, tone and enthusiasm. Some were single-worded, and some responses spanned over several messages. Some were indifferent to the cause, and some were so outraged at my asking of the question that I had nearly regretted putting out the story.
One response reads: “No, [they shouldn’t be mandatory] life has to move on!! Make up your own decision about them and respect others”
This sentiment was a common theme throughout many of the replies, but it begs the question; if people are so done with wearing face coverings, why do the majority of UL staff and students wear them? Do people think it’s too early for them to go? Are you selfish if you don’t wear a mask? Do people feel pressured by the majority to continue to wear them?
Another UL student says: “I’m absolutely delighted that we no longer need to wear facemasks inside college. With the availability of the vaccine and subsequent boosters, I’m more surprised that it’s taken this long for restrictions to be removed.
“Returning to normal feels good.”
This idea of returning to normal is something that we’ve all yearned for since March 2020, and in some respects, we have. Nightclubs are back open, proof of vaccination is no longer required in hospitality settings, and cases have been on a somewhat steady decline since early January.
Although one UL student feels that we aren’t returning to normal just yet, and the threat of COVID-19 should still be a major concern. They said: “Yes definitely, [masks should be mandatory] cases are still high, people don’t realise how bad it still is but I’m working in the hospital and the amount of positives [cases] we see a day is horrible”
And even though the number of responses that say we shouldn’t have to wear masks was overwhelmingly high, it’s interesting to see how many people are still wearing them. Is it just a very vocal minority, or are people going against their own word so they don’t make a bad impression on those around them?
Face coverings undoubtedly prevent the spread of COVID-19, and public health guidelines need to be adhered to. Two students interestingly mentioned the practice in some Asian countries of wearing a mask even if you have a cold, which was done long before the pandemic. Maybe the pandemic has made us adopt new rituals for when we feel sick, that we will take with us long after the pandemic is over.