Letter: It’s time to end the mask mandate at UBC

After Matt Taibbi’s talk with the Phil Lind Initiative on government overreach under Trump was postponed until April, the added time left me to ponder an appropriate pairing for his topic: the stringent COVID-19 guidelines we have learned to live under to the point of isolation becoming second nature.

I write at a time when lockdown measures are ending, and the need to “live with” COVID-19 through vaccination efforts is now the prevailing message from public health experts. The mask mandate has been lifted provincially. Vaccine passports have been argued against — with good reason — which has led to the government announcing their end on April 8.

Meanwhile, UBC lags behind. It is only the vaccine declaration and rapid-testing programs, two rules that were controversial from the beginning, that have finally been recognized by the university as now being useless.

Masks, by their very nature, remain the most extreme measure still being enforced. By obscuring the face, they neglect identity. By favouring the health of the mass collective, they disregard the choice of the individual. This presents a conflict for UBC admin. Is university not a place to grow as an individual, as our singular-form motto Tuum Est — “it is yours” — indicates? The refusal to lift this restrictive mandate suggests otherwise.

No amount of emails from the AMS promoting mental health awareness are able to negate the effects masks have on student wellbeing. Their problems are elevated in the lecture halls. University is a place to make the long-lasting connections with educators and peers we crave as social animals.

How exactly is one supposed to thrive when a horizontal piece of fabric — or in the case of the N95, a conic appearance not unlike a literal muzzle — remains the most immediate superficial barrier? They only further the societal drift towards convenient antisociality. And as Vancouver Coastal Health has stated in a letter to UBC, extreme measures such as these may in fact be the ultimate blockade to student happiness.

By continuing the mask mandate, the university admin have been bucked off their proverbial high horse. We can no longer claim to be “doing our part”; we are no longer “saving lives,” among other trivial phrases used to emotionally manipulate us into following unreasonable rules.

These are not only my opinions, but those of the government and public health experts UBC once followed. Our university can therefore no longer claim to be following the science. In the end, university staff are impacting student well-being and mental health in favour of projecting a false sense of compassion. And we’re still wearing masks as others in the western world celebrate being free — we remain prisoners of our own heightened sense of virtuosity.

Although a spike in BA.2 cases has prompted fears of a return to enforced masking, Dr. Bonnie Henry has definitively stated the goal amid COVID-19 is to never need a mask mandate again. Our university can therefore no longer claim to be following the provincial science.

The university admin who prevent us fully connecting after two years of division should be questioned by the tuition-paying students that provide them with power in the first place.

Moreover, any government leaders who want to go against the science and postpone our renaissance following two years of pent-up energy should be questioned by the people who form their democracy. Otherwise, enter the never-ending days of mistrusting those beside you; of further isolation and presuming wrongdoing when someone strays from the flock.

In this age, the antidote is the greater problem.

Sam Wallace is a second-year student majoring in English Literature at UBC. He is a frequent contributor to The Ubyssey.