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A deeply divisive national debate on mask-wearing has suddenly become intensely personal for University of Cincinnati (UC) students. On campus, it is now an everyday requirement to wear a mask, at least indoors, for the foreseeable future.

Given the extreme spike in COVID-19 case numbers this past month, more cases than when the first lockdowns took place, the choice now feels like more of a necessity. Yet, among students headed to in-person classes and workers headed to the workplace, this feels obstructive. So much that entire movements have sprung up to reject and revolt from the “stifling” pandemic status-quo of mask mandates in schools and public spaces.

Many anti-maskers cite bodily autonomy, clogged pores and most of all, plain old American freedom as reasoning for their aversion to mask mandates. Although sometimes characterized as right-wing conspiracy theorists, many anti-maskers are often just sick of living in a pandemic and are situated all along the political spectrum. In a sense, it is valid to ask questions and be upset by further restrictions, especially considering all the sacrifices we have already had to make.

Still, there is a missing piece of the puzzle that those who refuse mask-wearing, or those who mask up extremely begrudgingly, don’t seem to realize.

The truth of the matter is that it’s not about you. Your face, your breath, your ability to transmit disease – none of it is about you.

We could talk for hours about where the line between our undeniable individual freedom and our willingness to benefit the greater good should situate itself. There’s a deeply divisive ideological spectrum there. But, no matter how real you feel the pandemic is, the majority of the world is feeling it. I’d argue that our sympathy should simply be strong enough to turn into independent action.

My father lives in Sydney, Australia, where he’s sat in lockdown due to the Delta variant for a month now. There is no end in sight until a large majority of the country is vaccinated. In America, a second mass lockdown would never fly, and I understand this, but this is the reality in other parts of the world.

I simply believe that there’s a certain duty you have to the world beyond you and your own body. Sure, you are not afraid of death from the coronavirus yourself, and I’m sure many of us students feel this way as young, mostly healthy-bodied people, but the consequence of your choosing not to wear a mask is not simply to the detriment of your own health. Your willingness to be a carrier of a disease that will hit someone else, someone who is at risk of death or extreme bodily harm from this virus, cannot be understated.

On campus, these mask mandates need strict enforcement. When one person decides to let their nose slip out, suddenly everyone else will too. Although in-person classes are a dream come true for many after a long and mostly online year and a half, this opportunity for face-to-face contact comes at a price. We have to pay it.