My College Just Told Me Masks Don't Work. I'm Required To Wear One Anyway

AP Photo/LM Otero

In a recent email updating students on COVID-19 guidelines, UVU made an embarrassing contradiction. 

COVID-19 has impacted every part of our lives—from major events like thousands of Americans losing their jobs, to small annoyances like concerts getting canceled—and colleges are not exempt. And for those institutions of higher learning that are open, stipulations are almost always required for in-person classes. For instance, the university I attend, Utah Valley University, requires universal masking, contract tracing forms as part of attendance, and social distancing. 

All of those requirements bother me, mostly because the majority of us are young, resilient college students! Plus, as a recent study from the Center for Disease Control found, 94% of COVID-19 deaths were people with preexisting medical conditions. Additionally, if you’re under 34 years of age, you have an almost zero percent chance of dying due to COVID-19, according to mortality data for the disease. Young, healthy students should be among the least at-risk groups, right? 

Not if you listen to politicians and college officials. We, as students, are still required to mask up and stay away from our peers, at a minimum. This brings me to my reason for writing this piece. 

A recent official Utah Valley University email addressed the subject “when feeling sick or exposed to COVID-19.” In it, the authors went over protocols in the event of passing the disease, and defined the term exposure:

“Exposure to someone with COVID-19 means close contact, within six feet, for longer than 15 minutes, with or without a mask.” (Emphasis added).

I immediately thought, wait, what? So it doesn’t matter if I wear a mask? Closer inspection of the email yielded no further clarification of that statement. Given the way the authors phrased that sentence (and I’m not taking it out of context), there could be no other interpretation than this: masks do not stop the spread of COVID-19. If the face coverings worked, students (both of whom would be wearing masks, by the way) wouldn’t have to be considered “exposed” to the virus. It doesn’t make any sense. Further, at the end of their email, the authors remind students of the campus mask mandate, writing: 

“We are asking the entire Wolverine community to continue to wear a mask while at UVU. This includes when you are studying in the hallway, talking with a group of friends, or walking from place to place. Remember, appropriately wearing a mask means covering your nose and mouth.”

Though this email was meant to clear up confusion on COVID-19, it does the opposite for me. Why am I required to wear a mask if it doesn’t stop the spread of COVID-19? Either masks work, or they don’t; there’s no in-between. So, which is it? Sadly, UVU didn’t provide an answer, and I have a feeling they never will. They’ll just keep requiring masks, oblivious that they already informed the entire campus community that the face coverings don’t work.