According to the Sedgwick County COVID-19 tracker, the numbers from April to May are nearly identical for average cases per day and the 7-day rolling average, suggesting that COVID-19 cases are stabilizing around the Wichita area. (Photo Illustration by Alexis Baty)
According to the Sedgwick County COVID-19 tracker, the numbers from April to May are nearly identical for average cases per day and the 7-day rolling average, suggesting that COVID-19 cases are stabilizing around the Wichita area.

Photo Illustration by Alexis Baty

Maize South Student Body Against Wearing Masks During Important May Events

The Maize South student body overwhelmingly believes that our USD 266 school board consider a mask-optional prom and graduation after the state lifted the mandatory mask mandate.

May 13, 2021

Every student in the USD 266 school district is required to wear a facial covering for seven hours, five days a week. These students see each other everyday, in school and out and still have to cover their nose and mouth despite the mask mandate in Kansas being lifted.

Bottom line? Students who feel comfortable enough to not cover their face at these events should be given the option to not wear one at their own risk.

May is the celebratory month for upperclassmen between proms, graduation parties, the graduation ceremony, and families coming in town to celebrate this special time that only occurs once in a person’s life. People are not wearing masks during these occasions because they are already comfortable with their close friends and family. Forcing students and families to sport masks in a two-story building or a giant event venue around the same bubble of people could cause reduced participation in all events and negatively affect their final memories of their high school career.

A majority of the students are spending at least 20 hours a week maskless with friends and family outside of school between sports, jobs and shopping for prom gear. Schools from the beginning have attempted to control the student body exposure and mask wearing when students are only in school for seven hours a day. The other two-thirds of the day may be spent maskless at a group sleepover, attending a graduation party or even going out to eat with a larger-than-usual bubble of their friends.

The amount of time students are exposed to strangers from stores who have taken their mask requirement sign down and from friends whom they see all the time is greater than their time at school wearing a mask.

Evidence of students wishing to end this reign of mask mandates are abundantly clear in a student poll distributed virtually from The Bullseye’s social media platforms. Out of 200 students, 89 percent of students prefer to go maskless for prom while 88 percent of students prefer to go maskless for graduation. These numbers overwhelmingly support that our student body feels comfortable not wearing masks to many of the most important events of the entire school year.

Medical Research Suggests Optional Masks Makes Sense

Josh Umbehr, a family physician at Atlas MD in Wichita, agrees that the upperclassmen have the health to support them and believes if students were concerned enough with contracting COVID-19, they would take further precautions.

“Data supports loosening restrictions on lo-res populations,” Umbehr said. “Especially considering prom would most likely be 16 years and older, they have the opportunity to get vaccinated if they are higher risk or more concerned.”

According to daily updated graphs and statistics, we currently only have 200 cases of COVID in Kansas with a population just under 3 million people. Only a total of seven thousand people have tested positive for COVID-19, which is under 0.01 percent of Kansas.

I would say the same thing for the graduation, especially if they are doing social distancing, maybe [regarding masks] ‘recommended but not required,'” Umbehr said. “The data does support the idea that the risk is low and getting lower by the week. Not to mention anyone who does want to get vaccinated has the ability/opportunity to get vaccinated.”

— Umbehr

Viruses such as Influenza, SARS, and COVID-19 have shown patterns in history of having seasonality as well as the virus lasting longer in these cold and dry temperatures which are quite the opposite of summers in the Sunflower State. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States performed a study in March 2009 about the seasonality of various viruses.

In an interview with National Geographic in April, a medical epidemiologist at the public health department in Treviso, Italy, Luca Cegolon stated that “In general, respiratory viruses like cold, dry temperatures, especially SARS-CoV-2.”

In a study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in December of 2020, multiple members of the health science community confirmed this statement to be true. In the article, China is an example used because of their population, weather, etc.

“Based on the results from the modeling and environmental stability analysis of SARS-CoV-2, we finally highlighted an emerging trend that increase in ambient temperature, irrespective of relative humidity, had a strong influence on restraining the transmission rate of COVID-19 in China. For the cold seasons, the emphasis on social distancing should be strictly implemented to restrain COVID-19 transmission. Still, we need other efficient prevention and control measures to entirely halt COVID-19 transmission.”

In opposition, Lisa Lee, a public health expert at Virginia Tech and former official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that even with a large space, gathering large numbers of people can still pose risk, despite a large venue.

“It depends a lot on a number of things, including how crowded an outdoor activity is, how much movement there is, if everybody’s facing the same direction versus everybody facing each other, how vigorously people are exhaling,” Lee said. “If everyone is breathing really heavily, their droplets will travel further, so you’ll want a wider berth than six feet.”

Why Administration and the District are staying Diligent to Wearing Masks/Equal Playing Field 

Understandably, there’s strong reasons for administration to take masks serious at an event like prom where kids gather closely on a dance floor where temperatures have risen and our students are spending 30 minutes to an hour dancing and partying the night away in close proximity.

Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona in Phoenix, says that wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during large gatherings.

“The three key factors to consider are distance, duration, and intensity,” Popescu said. “The closer people are, the more droplets an activity is generating, and the longer people are close to one another, the more the risk increases and the more important a mask becomes. As with so much else in the pandemic, infection risk—and the need to wear a mask—hinges on the context.”

Since August, the district has forced our school community to wear face coverings throughout the school day. Staying consistent for only a couple more weeks (including the mentioned events) ensures a smooth, COVID-less finish to the 2021-2022 school year.

However, Choir and band students have had some of the strictest protocol to follow this year despite only being exposed to students they’ve had close contact with since August. Student clubs and organization have fallen apart at the seams, unable to build their membership causing serious question marks for student interest and participation for next school year as well.

Meanwhile, athletic groups and sports teams have been allowed to bend the rules even though other groups and organizations have been forced to comply. Track meets have students cheering and shouting at fences with other strangers and students they have never met without anyone bothering them about their masks hanging under their chin. During Friday night lights, it was easy to spot patches of students in large crowds going 10 to 15 minutes at a time not wearing masks around each other. Even wrestling requires participants in masks with teammates they practice against daily, yet allows them to take it off when wrestling against other teams from various Kansas schools. In other words, these wrestlers were exposed to foreigners they do not know without a fuss, but are forced to wear a mask with peers they have seen for months.

Where’s the consistency, fairness and holding everyone to the same standard while issuing these COVID-19 procedures and protocol at our school events?

Considerations Moving Forward

Continuing to making our students wear mask coverings even when the state’s mask mandate has been lifted makes little sense. Many communities within 30 minutes of Maize are in the process of allowing students to choose to wear masks the last part of May. Shouldn’t we at least consider a serious conversation on this?

Financially, many students work extra hours at minimum wage jobs in the spring to save for the special night. Ladies at prom can spend on average from $100 to $250 with hair and make-up. Masks can completely rub off all of the make-up that they paid for within an hour. Masks can also get tied up in their hair and earrings for the whole night. This isn’t even factoring how loud the venue will be with music, causing kids to pull down their masks anyways to talk to their friends.

If parents, students, or administrators are concerned about COVID-19 cases, forcing students to wear a mask for hours is not the only answer. Opening windows at the prom venue or turning on additional fans to create air flow can also decrease room temperatures while keeping students cool in full formal attire. Providing sanitary stations, taking temperatures of guests upon arrival and supplying sanitizing equipment may also make students still concerned about COVID-19 exposure more comfortable while at these events.

Another alternative is to enforce students wearing their masks around the dance area and DJ when there is plenty of shouting and close gathering. For graduation, require masks at select points in the event of close proximity such as traffic in and out of the building. These are precious, once-in-a-lifetime moments for our senior class and donning a face mask for photos isn’t an ideal way to end our senior year.

9 out of 10 students at Maize South believe that we should be given the choice to wear masks at these meaningful occasions. A better plan needs to be put in place to manage the mask debacle as we conclude the 2020-2021 school year.

6 Comments

6 Responses to “Maize South Student Body Against Wearing Masks During Important May Events”

  1. Grace Lowe on May 13th, 2021 9:52 am

    I absolutely agree with this article!! You guys did and amazing job hitting the nail on the head, I hope the administration takes this into consideration, very well done!!

  2. William Gates on May 13th, 2021 10:45 am

    Piper, we are in a pandemic still. Wearing a mask isn’t fun for anyone. Just because it might mess up your hair and makeup does not mean you just throw caution out. We are terribly sorry that a once in a century pandemic has caused you so much pain and suffering in having to wear a mask. Entitled much?

  3. William Gates on May 13th, 2021 11:10 am

    Why was my last comment taken down? Because I disagreed with the opinion of the writer? I’m sorry Piper is mad she has to wear a mask to prom and graduation, but we are in the middle of a pandemic. Small sacrifices. At least they get a prom and graduation ceremony. That’s more than the class of 2020 was able to get while in the middle of a pandemic. We did not get those things and we survived. This just sounds very entitled.

  4. Brooklyn Miers on May 13th, 2021 11:14 am

    Wearing a mask really isn’t that big of a deal. At least we get a prom and graduation.

  5. Maggie Miller on May 13th, 2021 11:22 am

    I agree!

  6. Shannon Edwards on May 14th, 2021 4:45 pm

    This is a well-written article with thoughtful organization and counterargument. Though the news from the CDC is exciting, I think we need to keep in mind that the new advice is for those who have been vaccinated. Fewer than 40% of our community is currently vaccinated. Many of that 40% have only received one dose and are not fully vaccinated. A recent (May 10) article in the Wichita Eagle stated that people in the 14-17 age group have almost double the positive case rate as the general population. Vaccines just became available for young people under 16 in the last week, and very few have had an opportunity to get fully vaccinated. I do agree that we as a BOE need to have serious discussion about relaxing guidelines for masks, and we will have a special meeting in the next few weeks. I do not agree with completely making masks optional for large events at this time.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.