By Nicholas Cohen
The UNC Asheville mask mandate remains in effect on campus. Students said they have mixed feelings about the need to wear masks.
According to Director of Health and Counseling at UNCA Jay Cutspec, the current UNCA guidelines for wearing masks is that they need to be worn at all times within buildings by everyone unless they are in their own office or dorm room alone with the door closed.
“The UNCA mask mandate fortunately seems to be having a positive effect on public health and has helped lower the average number of COVID-19 cases on campus,” Cutspec said. “I think we have averaged three to five COVID-19 cases a week in the first three weeks of classes, so I would say it is stable as of today.”
UNCA Professor of Molecular and Chemical Biology Thomas Meigs explained that viruses like COVID-19 spread by leaving the body of an infected person.
“Viruses are just a collection of molecules together with some proteins, RNA and lipids,” Meigs said. “They cling together in a tiny little particle that seems to occupy these little droplets of moisture that come out of the mouth and out of the lungs of someone who is infected with COVID-19.”
According to Meigs, if someone stands a few feet away from someone else and has a conversation while wearing masks, the chances would be very low that moisture droplets transfer from one person’s body into the other person’s mouth or nose. Without wearing a mask, the odds of this droplet transfer go way up.
When Looking at the effectiveness of a mask, Meigs said to think about the ways the mask can repel tiny moisture droplets blasted out of people’s mouths when they sneeze, cough or talk.
“Those are the kinds of things we think about in terms of why a mask is effective,” Meigs said.
Finding the right mask is important but can sometimes prove to be confusing and difficult.
According to Cutspec, the CDC does not offer specific guidance on what the most effective masks are. However, many conducted research projects provide insight on mask effectiveness.
“Generally, masks should have two layers of protection,” Cutspec said.
In addition to protecting against COVID-19, wearing a mask on campus can help people feel safer around others. UNCA Senior, Mary-Grace Blake, said she appreciates the university’s continued enforcement of the mask mandate during the fall semester.
“I am glad masks are still a thing,” Blake said. “Having it be a universal guideline makes me feel less unsure about what I should do for myself.”
Blake said being around people who choose not to wear masks makes her uncomfortable, and she tries to avoid large groups.
However, there are those who are still weighing the pros and cons about having to wear a mask on campus and worry how it will affect their future at UNCA. Former UNCA Senior Reese Grasalfi said he is thinking about re-enrolling at UNCA next semester to finish his bachelor’s degree in earth sciences.
“It’s not an issue with the physical comfort of wearing a mask at all,” Grasalfi said.
According to Grasalfi he recognizes the value of wearing masks while remaining wary of the issues it imposes on the learning environment.
“The social aspect is almost just as important as the education,” Grasalfi said. “I would rather just wait until you don’t have to wear a mask if I’m going to spend that amount of money to go back to school.”
Students that do not have a mask can acquire one at the Health and Counseling Center or at the front desk at the Highsmith Student Union.
In addition to other universities in Western North Carolina, UNCA requires people to wear masks indoors on campus. UNCA health officials made this decision in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases on campus. However, it is important for university officials to communicate with one another to better understand why wearing a mask will help lower the number of COVID-19 cases on campus.
According to Cutspec, the most important thing that students, staff and faculty can do is avoid activities and areas that put them at higher risk for catching COVID-19 such as large crowds and small spaces which force people to be close to one another.
“School officials will review the guidelines every two weeks as new information on preventing the spread of COVID-19 on campus and within the community arises,” Cutspec said.