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To Mask or Not to Mask?

Grand Rapids Community College campus (Sabrina Edwards/The Collegiate)

By Breegan Petruska

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the question around the world has been “to mask or not to mask.” A year and a half later, this question continues to cause arguments between scientists, medical professionals, politicians, and random strangers on Facebook.

On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear masks or social distance. Two months later, the CDC is taking a step back and calling for fully vaccinated individuals to put their masks back on when indoors in public places.

In response, some colleges and universities around the state are now requiring students to be fully vaccinated before classes begin in the fall.

The University of Michigan and Michigan State University both announced on July 30, 2021, that they are requiring students and faculty to be vaccinated by Aug. 31. So far, the list of Michigan schools joining them include Albion College, Kalamazoo College, Lawrence Technological University, Oakland University, University of Detroit Mercy and Wayne State University.

So what does this mean for Grand Rapids Community College?

“The health and safety of our students, employees and community members is always our top priority,” stated Dave Murray, GRCC’s Communications Director. “We are continuing to monitor the direction coming from the Centers for Disease Control and expect to hear more from our state and local health authorities before taking action.”

On June 29, GRCC began Phase 5.1 which no longer requires students to wear masks or social distance. At this time, this phase will stay in place.

Frank Conner, the GRCC Faculty Association President, agrees with the college’s decision on its current protocol.

“We should actively encourage students to get vaccinated,” stated Conner. “Maybe even create a reward system for those who choose to do so. However, making it a requirement may create a significant conflict with those we are here to serve. And while it would be a small percentage of people in the community, their voice does matter and the distraction caused by this requirement would take away from our core mission of teaching.”

With the delta variant causing a rise in positive cases across the country, will GRCC join the list of schools requiring vaccines? Will the school go back to requiring masks on campus?

“I don’t think masks should be worn if vaccinated,” stated Brendan Burke, the GRCC Student Alliance President. “ I think we should just keep the social distancing and everything is fine. Face masks should be encouraged but not required.”

Compared to the winter 2021 semester, GRCC has expanded its number of in-person classes for the fall. More students will be on campus for classes and on-campus activities. Should we worry about a potential outbreak if masks are not required?

“Right now Kent County does not fall within the guidelines for requiring masks,” stated Conner. “Given these CDC parameters, no, I don’t believe the college should require masks this fall. We have already changed the classroom environment for fall. We have on average smaller classes. We have new furniture designed for social distancing in the classroom. We have upgraded our HVAC for better filtration of the air on campus. However, should the variants continue to increase in the level of infections, hospitalizations, and even death primarily among the unvaccinated, that position might change. If we see the level of COVID cases increase in our surrounding geographic area, then the full campus going back to a mandatory mask requirement is logical and I would support it.”