The fall semester is now in full swing, and UVA is buzzing with students again. But there are still many visible remnants of the hell that made last year so miserable for everyone. “Maintain six feet” and “face coverings must be worn” signs are planted all over Grounds, and Covid is still making its rounds. The virus will probably exist forever (like the flu) and, apparently, we have permanently adjusted our lives to deal with that reality— masked college students sure have.
The University’s indoor mask mandate—which was supposed to end on September 6th—was recently extended until the end of the month. School administrators say it will be re-evaluated in October, but it’s not hard to tell what the result of that “evaluation” will be. Students have known for a while now that the ideal, normal semester promised for this year was a deceptive ploy; none of this year’s “precautionary” mandates surprised anyone. UVA, like many other elite institutions, has made it its mission to fall in line with every single arbitrary reversal and contradiction dispersed by the Ministry of Truth CDC for the past year and a half. Even though Covid cases on Grounds are down from their return-to-normal “spike,” masks have been deemed and adopted as the new way of life.
Yes, as a college student in 2021, it’s expected to be subject to masking and contact-tracing, but why has it become accepted? It seems most students don’t actually have pandemic fears or care about the mandates anymore. They’ve either been vaccinated, already had Covid, or are genuinely unafraid of a virus with a 99% survival rate. But they aren’t at all pushing back against the mask mandate. They are willingly complying. Students have become so used to being told what to do without explanation that they’re just happy to be in class again, even with masks and shields.
It doesn’t take a genius, though, to notice how downright stupid and undeniably useless the current University mandates actually are. Why? Because the mandates don’t apply anywhere else other than the classroom. Right now, UVA students have to wear masks in class and while inside academic buildings, but they don’t have to wear them anywhere else— there are, rightfully so, no mandates for indoor dining halls, dorms, club fairs, frat houses; any bars, restaurants, or stores in Charlottesville; or any sporting event (like the football games). Without requirements in any of those places, there isn’t any basis for requiring them anywhere else. But we are still wearing them. Because this is not about public health— it’s merely masked as such. This is mask theater.
Over 97% of the student body is vaccinated— a percentage the University has gloated over for months now (We forced an experimental vaccine on thousands of young, healthy students who are largely unaffected by this disease, and then we still made them wear masks. Hoo-rah-ray for a return to normalcy!). But administrators and health officials have yet to give one valid reason why 100% of students are still masked in class. And that’s because there isn’t one. Per UVA Health and the CDC, the vaccines are effective— they lower infection rates dramatically (only 1 in 5,000 new cases arises from someone fully vaccinated, according to an email sent to all students from Executive Director of UVA Student Health Christopher P. Holstege, M.D.) or, in the event of “breakout” cases, lower the likelihood of severe symptoms. The risk was never severe to begin with. Now, according to UVA’s own vaccine studies, it’s microscopic.
Even when putting vaccine rates aside, the optics of it all are still plain dumb. Students are allowed to remove their masks to dine freely and converse with each other in packed cafeterias, but lecture halls—where students don’t even open their mouths—require masks. Professors walk in the hallways with their masks on, only to take them off once they are in their classrooms, naturally drifting away from the plexiglass-shielded podiums behind which they are permitted to be maskless, and emitting particles all over the students sitting in the front row. Clemons Library, where every desk has its own individual plexiglass shield, still requires students to wear masks while sitting at those protected desks. At sporting events, the marching band is only allowed to play on the field to prevent particles from spreading in the stands, but everyone else can still scream maskless in the same stands.
Clearly, the mandates are more for-show than ever. That is even more obvious when basic arguments for dropping them don’t receive valid responses. Why should young, healthy people be subjected to these measures when this virus doesn’t kill young, healthy people (especially when they are all vaccinated)? Why were students required to be vaccinated if they still have to wear masks? Why do we need an official UVA COVID Tracker with case numbers and positivity rates but have never had such a thing for the rampant spread of mono and influenza that has taken place virtually every other year (and often with more severe symptoms)? And by the way, what’s the point of the tracker if testing for vaccinated students isn’t even required? (Perhaps it’s to drive the positivity rate up and keep Covid sensational— just a thought.) Lastly, why is a raging pandemic manifested in lecture halls on Mondays at 9 AM but not on Saturdays in Scott Stadium? None of it makes sense. And it never did.
Will the University end its mask mandate to make it make sense? It’s not clear yet, but it’s not likely. Ample evidence has suggested for months now that Covid, at least on Grounds, is a rapidly diminishing problem— if it ever was one. A whopping zero students have been hospitalized. Student cases have dipped from their semester “high.” Nevertheless, that reality is setting against the backdrop of a ubiquitous cough going around, dubbed the “Hoo flu.” Because a minority of students and professors are anxious about the spread of a normal-sounding cough, they are loudly advocating for an extension on the mandates, a hybrid class option, and mandatory prevalence testing for all students. To them, a healthy individual breathing freely is still perceived as a major risk. The community is at the point where it can finally acknowledge that indoor mask mandates are idiotic at best and Covid for vaccinated students is nothing more than a common cold—because when was there ever a year that a bug didn’t spread on a college campus?—but alas, it would be way too naive to assume rational thought ever had a chance.
UVA won’t cower to the radical double-maskers, which in itself is a subtle acknowledgement that last year’s virtual format was an absolute failure and total rip-off. But it also won’t lift the mandates for the time being. Although it would be a welcome surprise if it did, it doesn’t have to, because other schools won’t lift theirs either— not until they all get their cue from Washington. Masks in class will continue to be the status quo, and stadiums will continue to fill up because money talks and a year of no ticket sales talks louder.
These contradicting realities are just a microcosm of what’s going on across the country. It’s now normal to see Lollapalooza and the Emmy’s at full capacity but kindergartners unallowed to take in fresh air at recess. It wouldn’t be a normal day without seeing an N-95er complain that somebody else isn’t wearing a mask or, in a college student’s case, seeing other students—mostly anonymously on social media—demanding a return to online class. And unfortunately for many, it’s become normal to put the obedience muzzle on just to avoid confrontation or another mandated reduction of free will.
That is why such utter lunacy will never end. Those who are already vaccinated, who already had Covid, or who just don’t want to breathe in their own CO2 anymore, will continue to struggle in slowing the spread of nonsense. They are outnumbered by those in control and those who are controlled; Corona Law was designed to do just that. Students, employees, and regular citizens are pawns in a larger game, letting a select few have a profoundly negative effect over their everyday lives. And sadly, most have conceded to accept face diapers as the new normal— that the pandemic is and always will be humanity’s preeminent threat. It doesn’t matter if you or your toddler is struggling mentally and physically from breathing under damp and snot-covered cloth, if you and your college-aged children already bent to the vax, if you already recovered from the virus, if you’ve ever read the Constitution. You’re not London Breed or Gavin Newsom. You weren’t invited to the MET Gala. You’re not important! Put it on.
Variants, lockdowns, shots in arms. Every day the goalposts are moved, and every day the mandates many of us assumed were working are suddenly deemed useless. Masks first. Then vaccines to end the masks, then the Delta variant, then more masks, then more shots, and then we’ll probably be told to get back inside. Lambda! Mu! They’re here. We better abide. How many more Greek letters—not Mandarin because that would be xenophobic—will you let control your life before you decide you’ve finally had enough? Do you really still consider this “ongoing” pandemic to be apocalyptic, or is that just the reality being mainstreamed? Are you wearing a mask because you want to, or are you just submissively rehearsing tolerance because that’s what’s expected of you? If you’re sitting in class with a mask on in the morning and cramming yourself into a mosh pit, bar, or student section at night, answer those questions for yourself. The mandates might seem serious until you realize you’re acting in a play you didn’t even know you auditioned for.