Counterintuitive LOHS eating protocol works against COVID safety restrictions

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Mark Williams, News Editor

Education on COVID to the general public has unfortunately been marred by controversy, conflicting sources and distrust in public and government institutions. However, one restriction that has always been pretty clear from official sources is that masks should be worn over the nose and mouth, at most times (The CDC has reversed their decisions on masks in certain scenarios) and only certain types of masks should be worn. This was pretty loosely followed across the country with useless bandanas being worn, masks being worn incorrectly (or not at all) and at least initially a lack of medical grade masks leading people to make them out of fabric or old T-shirts which are known to be pretty ineffective. It is still true that many people are continuing to follow outdated guidelines and not understanding which masks are best and which ones are not effective. Unfortunately, a large portion of the US population has simply stopped trusting, and subsequently trying. One possible reason for this is the exemption made by pretty much every institution that from a common sense point of view makes mask wearing seem useless. That one gap in guidance is our eating protocol.

It simply makes no sense. How do we need to wear our masks all of the time if it is perfectly safe and ok to take them off while we are eating? I think most people would agree that the 30 minute period of time where we eat is not a time where we simply stop breathing. Initially restaurants closed, people were told to stay home from work and for the most part we all ate separately within our households. Eventually though, restaurants reopened, bars reopened and people went back to work. The policy for this situation quickly became unclear, and it allowed  too many Americans the go ahead to take off their masks for long periods of time in a pretty crowded indoor environment. As long as they met the “six feet” requirement the situation was deemed “safe” despite an MIT study showing COVID transmission was possible at up to 60 ft in a restaurant setting. Additionally, slim plastic dividers went up across these restaurants which seemed to excuse many of them from the six foot requirement. The message soon became clear, masks were becoming less enforced and whether or not people had to wear them was now up for open and rebellious debate.

The only clear guidance and enforced guidance on eating and drinking came from the Federal Aviation Administration. If you have taken an airline flight in the last year, it is likely you have heard the entire speech on masks at the beginning of each flight requiring passengers to keep their masks between sips of water and bites of food. This guidance is clear and from a safety perspective does make sense. It is all about preventing those unmasked moments and not becoming relaxed on the issue which is starting to become a problem during school lunches and in hallways.

Back during the fourth quarter of the 2020-2021 school year students who had returned in a limited capacity had had mask mandates strictly enforced. It was extremely rare to see a student without a mask. Today, the scene is radically different. In the hallways, gyms, during lunch, and various other times such as sporting events masks are not worn or used correctly by a sizable portion of students. If we as a school want to fulfill our COVID promises we need to continue to enforce our mask mandates especially outside of individual classrooms.