Linfield’s new mask policy might negatively impact students


Wearing a mask when alone outside seems excessive. Cartoon by Elliott Montbriand

Anne Walkup, Staff Writer

I understand how vital it is to follow safety precautions in order for our campus to stay open, and I appreciate Linfield’s efforts to keep its students safe and healthy. However, in light of Linfield’s recent change to its on-campus mask policy, I am concerned that requiring masks to be worn outdoors at all times, even while alone, will have negative effects on students’ physical and mental health. 

I would like to be clear about my stance on mask wearing: I agree with the Center for Disease Control’s position that masks help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and should be worn at all times indoors as well as outdoors when a distance of 6 feet or more cannot be maintained. 

From what I have seen around campus, students in the last week were extremely responsible in their mask wearing and in accordance with Oregon’s state-mandated guidelines. Linfield’s new mask policy made me wonder if perhaps the state’s guidelines had changed, but I saw that they remain the same as before. It is unclear what prompted this change, as Linfield did not disclose that information when they informed the campus of the new policy. 

My first point of concern is that this new policy will discourage students from spending time outside. While masks are by no means painful, they are a bit uncomfortable to wear and most people prefer not to wear one when unnecessary. Therefore, I worry that students will hole up in their residence halls and apartments where they do not have to wear masks rather than choosing to spend time outside. Fresh air and vitamin D are huge assets in maintaining our overall health. If Linfield truly wants to keep its students healthy, it should encourage them to spend as much time outside as possible. Moreover, breathing recycled air indoors is a primary way that COVID-19 is transmitted.

It sounds as if athletes will be able to train without masks in certain circumstances, and those running on the wellness trail and track alone will be able to run without masks. However, as a female, I have had scary encounters while running alone (on the wellness trail as well as off campus) and feel it is unsafe to do so. I have been running on the wellness trail with my roommates in order to get exercise in a safe manner. It is concerning that I will no longer be able to do so, even though my roommates and I are allowed to be inside our apartment together without masks on. We have tried exercising in masks, and the masks soon become soaked in sweat and it becomes more difficult to breathe. We are athletes who are not in season, but we must still train at a high level on our own if we want to maintain our fitness levels. If you have not yet done so, I urge you to try doing an intense workout in the sun for 1.5-2 hours while wearing cotton masks. I do not think that masks restrict our ability to breathe, but it is clear from my experience that it is more difficult to do so while exercising. 

I am also concerned that this new policy will encourage people to leave campus more often and will ruin the “Linfield bubble” that we are working hard to maintain. If masks are only required outdoors on campus, but Oregon’s state-mandated laws do not require them to be worn off campus, it is likely that many more people will go home, visit their friends, travel, and attend house parties on weekends. If Linfield were to make its campus feel like more of a safe haven, especially in large outdoor spaces where physical distancing can be maintained, I believe that people would be more likely to stay on campus.  

I worry that masks create a false sense of security in certain situations. Though they help to a certain degree, non-medical grade masks are not 100 percent effective protection from the transmission of COVID-19, and I am worried that too much emphasis has been put on mask-wearing and not enough on physical distancing. I see students walking, standing and sitting mere inches from one another, and while all are wearing masks, I am afraid that they are disregarding the most effective means of protecting themselves: physical distancing (maintaining a distance of at least 6 ft). 

The CDC recommends, “Continue to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others. The mask is not a substitute for social distancing. If Linfield were to put more emphasis on physical distancing, I think that would be much more effective than requiring students to wear masks when they are alone outside (in places where there is no chance of them transmitting the illness: e.g., in a field far away from other people). 

Last but certainly not least, I worry that this will negatively affect students’ mental health. I feel as though mental health is often overlooked, while in reality it is just as important as our physical health. We are human beings at a critical stage in our lives. Our mental health at this age is especially fragile. We must not be considered collectively, nor as robots who can adapt to new changes effortlessly. Many of us are doing all we can to maintain some sense of normalcy in our lives. For me and my roommates, that sense of normalcy was being able to enjoy each other’s company outside without masks on (far away from other people, so as to follow Oregon’s laws regarding social distancing). 

We have already had so much taken away and we are doing our very best to make the most of a difficult and emotionally exhausting semester. It may sound like a small thing, but to me and to others who share my opinion, it would make a huge difference in our physical and mental wellbeing to be able to enjoy our time outside without masks when we can maintain a distance of 6 feet or more. 

If students are less likely to spend time outdoors, less likely to exercise, leave campus more often, are not informed to continue practicing social distancing while wearing masks, and suffer from an unhealthy mental state, we are not doing what we can to be as healthy as possible. I fear that this new policy, intended to maintain our health, will actually have more negative effects than positive ones.