Masking in outdoor classrooms is necessary

Carrollyne Aasen, Reporter

To create an opportunity for students to attend partially in-person, hybrid classes during spring 2021, Cal Lutheran introduced outdoor classroom tents. Although classes are indoors this semester, the outdoor classrooms are still on campus and being utilized for classes. 

According to the Cal Lutheran face mask policy, all individuals accessing or using Cal Lutheran indoor facilities regardless of vaccination status must wear a mask at all times except when eating and/or drinking, are alone in a closed room or office, or actively performing at a live event. As mentioned in an update from May 2021 of the mask policy, masking outside is required when unable to maintain physical distancing.

Students and faculty should be wearing a mask while inside these tented outdoor classrooms. This will not only help us to protect  ourselves from potentially contracting COVID-19, but will also help protect others in our community. 

“I am concerned on the focus of individual rights regarding mask wearing when this is a public health issue. This is not about our individual selves; we are a community and I feel like at Cal Lutheran, of all places, that should be something we understand,” Associate Professor of Religion Peter Carlson said in a Zoom interview.

I agree with Carlson. I believe that wearing masks should not be a political issue, it is a public health issue. It is important to wear a mask because it will protect each person from contracting COVID-19 as well as protect their classmates, the faculty members at Cal Lutheran, their friends and their family’s. 

There is an argument that since the classroom tents are outside, there should be an exemption from wearing masks, especially for vaccinated people. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for participating in outdoor and indoor activities, if social distancing of at least six feet is not attainable, people should wear their masks. Students and faculty should wear their masks in these classrooms because there is limited space and it is not possible to maintain a distance of six feet between each person within the classroom. 

Additionally, Carlson said that by every outdoor classroom tent, there is a sign stating the requirement of masks within the classroom. 

“Even though the tents are outdoor classrooms, they are still classrooms and so students still need to be masked,” Carlson said. 

In the case of unvaccinated students, the Cal Lutheran Compact states that by signing this, unvaccinated students are agreeing to wearing a mask at all times except when drinking or eating in designated areas and when in a private enclosed space with the door closed. Therefore, if a student is unvaccinated and not wearing a mask within these classrooms, they are violating the Cal Lutheran Compact they signed earlier this semester and there are potential risks to people on campus. 

Adina Nack, professor of sociology and director of the public health minor at Cal Lutheran, said in a Zoom interview that because of the roof and side walls of the classroom tents, these classrooms are not as safe as a fully outdoor classroom without a roof and side walls.

According to the CDC, an aerosol is a suspension of tiny particles or droplets in the air, therefore these particles may carry the virus and spread the virus through the air. This method of spread infers the need to utilize masks with or without a vaccine. 

“You are safer [in outdoor classrooms] than if you were indoors but because what we know about the aerosolized particles, is that they come out of our noses and mouths. And then they, depending on the ventilation, they can linger,” Nack said.

Nack also said that in an indoor setting, those aerosolized particles could be drifting around in an indoor space for up to two to three hours. As for outdoor spaces, Nack said that since there is more air flow, it is less likely that any particle would stay in any given place. 

Moreover, Nack said that students would be better off masked given that the outdoor classrooms are partially enclosed outdoor settings. 

Since the Delta variant is at large during these times, there can be additional protection from this variant by wearing masks regardless of vaccination status. 

The CDC said on their website that vaccines help with lessening severe illness, nevertheless, vaccines do not mean that the coronavirus or the Delta variant cannot be contracted, but that an infection only happens to a small proportion of fully vaccinated people. According to the CDC website, the Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus.

Because of the nature of the variant, there is a higher possibility to contract it and then spread it to classmates, friends and other people. Thus, even with the help of the vaccine and the open wall for the outdoor classrooms, it is imperative that each person still wear a mask in outdoor classrooms to protect our Cal Lutheran community.