Building a Boat on the Water: The Mask Mandate and Return to Pre-COVID Normalcy

by Mia Shou ’23

Source: iStock

Published Apr. 8th, 2022

Normal. What a wondrous word to be uttered in the context of the pandemic. Still, it is a word that invokes the image of masks plastered across our faces since the beginning of the school year. 

However, true “normal” seemed to grow closer on March 7th with the lifting of the mask mandate following Governor Murphy’s repeal of Executive Order 253. The order had required masks to be worn inside schools statewide.

Regardless, Montgomery’s discussions on lifting the mandate began “well before that,” said the district’s Director of Safety and Security, Mr. Wain. “What we did was what we had been doing throughout the entire pandemic: [we met] with our local health experts.” Such meetings included the Department of Health and the district physician, Dr. Mandelbaum, who concluded based on Montgomery’s data that going mask-optional would indeed be safe. 

While the team is aware of the concerns surrounding the decision, statistics from the first three weeks following the repeal show that it “has been the right decision, because we’ve seen no increase in [COVID cases] at all; in fact, we’ve seen our numbers flatten in the last few weeks,” said Wain. 

Despite this, a survey of 21 students regarding the new policy found that 71.4 percent, or 15 students, believed it was too early to repeal the mandate. For some, “after the experience of wearing masks, it’s uncomfortable to stand close to someone who’s maskless while they’re talking,” said Caroline Liu ‘23. 

Although it may never “feel comfortable” for some time, 57.5 percent of survey respondents, or 12 students, claimed that they saw little to no change in their overall experience at school since the beginning of the repeal of the mandate, thus suggesting that our school may be truly beginning to adapt to this new reality.

All in all, one must not forget that the pandemic forced, not only the administration, but the entirety of Montgomery, to “build a boat on the water,” said Mr. Wain. However, the experience has been valuable. “If this were to ever happen again, we could […]start making decisions right away based on our past experiences […] and I think things would go a [lot] smoother for everyone.”  And now, with the mask-optional policy, it is clear that the boat has begun to sail towards the horizon of true normalcy. 

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