This letter was written by Glenn Hubbard, a student at Penn State.
This summer, when the delta variant rose to become the dominant variant within the United States, I wore a mask. Then, after a bit, I wore two. That was my decision. It wasn’t anyone else’s.
I would often visit my grandmother, and even though she was vaccinated, I didn’t want to try our luck at a terrifying hospital inducing breakthrough infection.
I worked at a restaurant where almost every guest and employee didn’t wear a mask. There was no way for me to know who was vaccinated — it was and never will be my place to ask. People asked me why I was wearing two to which I would respond with my uncertainty with the coronavirus data at the time and the fact that I see my grandma often.
With those two statements, my double masking was left alone.
If I was asked further — perhaps by people who were curious about the data that I was referencing — I made sure I had resources ready that I could direct them to, so they could educate themselves and understand their individual risk.
I saw cases rising throughout the country and in my home state. While cases rose though, and inevitably, so would the number of breakthrough infections, the number of hospitalizations and deaths of the vaccinated remained low. Every news outlet professed that vaccines worked and that they kept you substantially safer from getting coronavirus and from transmitting coronavirus.
States recommended everyone get vaccinated, and they kept telling everyone to follow the CDC. If you are indoors, wear a mask. Some states, such as Oregon, Washington and Hawaii mandated masks for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
Today, I wear my mask indoors in class. I respect my professors and my peers. Since most classes are not able to be taken fully online and receive the same quality of education, I believe it is only fair that I do my part to create a learning environment where everyone can succeed without fear.
When I’m outside I do not wear my mask. Outdoor transmission rates have remained low, I’m vaccinated and I trust that most of the people around me are vaccinated. For those who are unvaccinated, I find it unreasonable to authorize them simply because they did not receive a medical treatment.
When I received word of State College borough’s Sept. 13 coronavirus ordinance, I immediately felt defeated. Maybe that’s selfish, maybe I’m tired. Maybe my 21 birthday was on Sept. 17 and maybe I wanted to feel what a bar is like without having to stay seated or walk to the bathroom without a mask on. Maybe I want to see the smiles of my peers, and maybe I don’t want to be reminded every time I go out of the difficulties I faced — difficulties I know we all faced — this past year.
When I came back to Penn State this year, I was incredibly gleeful. Capacity restrictions were lifted. I could walk downtown and see friends from previous classes without having to guess who they were from their eyebrows and forehead. I could hear people better. As someone who has had trouble hearing in the past, this made a world of a difference.
I’m still gleeful, though, as we have football, tailgates and no private residence capacity restrictions.
However, if the borough could have its way, I don’t think it’d hesitate to put capacity restrictions in place. Maybe the cap won’t be 10 people anymore, but it could easily be 50 people. It’s easy money for the borough and it kept students in check for the most part.
Considering the borough council's board of health passed the vote for this new masking ordinance without even a word that this was on the docket to students, I can only guess our new technocratic despots would not hesitate to make assembly decisions for us, too.
There’s a part of me that understands this mandate. People are scared, and the vaccine’s effectiveness wears down over time, which is shown by the need for a third booster for Pfizer recipients.
Much like these people, I too was scared. I wore two masks at work, and I was skeptical of the vaccine preventing reinfection. I had coronavirus last fall, and those antibodies worked like a charm, but for all I knew those antibodies could have been of little difference to the delta variant.
I didn’t impose my fear on others, though. I never asked if people were vaccinated, and I never asked them to wear masks. Their body, their choice, just as it was my body, my choice.
I washed my hands and wore my masks, I ate in a separate room, and I made sure I kept a reasonable amount of distance between myself and others when I could. I made my choices, and I did not get sick. The borough is imposing the fears of others — fears that go against the science that vaccines do, in fact, work.
My greatest qualm with this mandate is its vagueness. The ordinance will stay in effect if Centre County is at a level of high transmission. What if high transmission gets redefined to what is considered today as moderate or low transmission? Will the ordinance be in effect for the rest of my time at Penn State, if a redefinition such as the one previously described happens?
How is this ordinance fair to Mad Mex or Café 210 West that both have outdoor seating while bars such as Champs will face similar difficulties as last year? This vagueness creates an ordinance with no feasible end in sight since, even though there is a date at which the ordinance laps, if transmission continues to remain high, the mandate may remain ad infinitum.
The borough knows that in the coming weeks cases will rise exponentially. Thanks to tailgates, apartment parties, football games and the ever powerful asymptomatic infection, coronavirus cases will rise among students.
Locals know this, too. People wear masks, because they know masks work and people receive vaccines, because they know vaccines work. So, what does this mandate accomplish? If everyone who would wear a mask already does, and if everyone who doesn’t want to wear a mask will continue to only wear one when it’s required, how much will the mandate impact the community?
If you want to wear a mask, then wear one. It’s that simple. It seems, though, that this mandate is a virtue signaling effort to the council’s constituency to say that it did indeed try to mitigate spread of the virus.
If the borough truly cared about the wellbeing of its populace, we would have seen these regulations continue over from last year, but that’s OK because since it's present now, everything will be alright, and there’s no way coronavirus cases will continue to rise.
Letter update one week after the borough mask ordinance was put into place on Sept. 13:
Coronavirus prevention measures by and large work at limiting the spread of the virus. However, when enforcement and compliance with such measures are lackluster, the measures become much less effective.
After having turned 21 and spending time downtown at the bars, it is very easy to see that enforcement throughout the town is nonexistent. Not only is this enforcement not happening at bars, it also isn’t happening at shops.I’ve forgotten my mask multiple times, and I was never reminded nor asked to put one on.
I’ve been monitoring the Penn State coronavirus dashboard closely, and to my surprise, documented cases of coronavirus through on-campus testing have actually decreased since the start of football season. There could be bias in the reporting — students aren’t going to get tested, maybe at-home testing is taking precedent over on-campus swabs, or maybe the vaccines really do work in preventing symptomatic infections and there are hundreds of asymptomatic infection roaming around.
But if this data is truly representative of Penn State’s coronavirus environment, I believe we are moving in a direction that represents a normalcy not known since fall 2019.
I still live by the belief that if you mandate something, it isn’t a true mandate without enforcement mechanisms. The borough does not seem to be enforcing their own mandate, and for someone on the outside, this remains an appeal to any claims of virtue signaling to constituents or the media.