But as frustrating as this is, COVID isn’t over yet. We aren’t “post-pandemic.” In fact, COVID rates in N.C. have been rising since July.
As a result, 106 N.C. districts are requiring students to wear masks in schools, with only nine districts making masks optional. People are also asking Gov. Roy Cooper to require masks in schools, even starting a petition. The petition states that experts believe students should be back in schools, but they also need to wear masks.
“Over the past few weeks, we have seen ‘mask optional’ approaches fail time and time again,” the petition read.
For more direct information on this topic, we spoke with two N.C. women about how they feel about the current state of COVID and mask mandates. Here’s what they had to say.
“How do you feel about the state of COVID right now?”
“I am concerned about the current state of COVID in N.C. as we draw closer to the peak of the Delta variant,” said Reverend Tobi Nguyen, a United Methodist pastor and mother.
Nguyen believes as a state, we need to care about others more. “I wish that we valued the lives of our fellow North Carolinians and hospital healthcare workers more by those who were eligible this spring choosing to be fully vaccinated,” she said.
She’s also seen the serious, life-threatening impacts COVID has had firsthand. “I have buried too many people who have died from COVID,” she said.
And she worries about the many people who have been affected by COVID in some way — AKA, everyone.
“I am concerned for those who are suffering from COVID now, both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. I worry for my parishioners who are having necessary surgeries rescheduled due to local hospitals reaching capacity. I worry for those who will miss timely cancer treatment as resources are being diverted. I am concerned for the mental and physical health of those on the front lines. My heart aches for the moral injury that has been caused by COVID — and our societal response to it,” she said.
Rachel, an N.C. pastor, is thankful for her city’s mask mandate because of those same concerns. However, she knows not everyone is so lucky.
“Since I’m in Durham, I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a bubble. Durham’s mask mandate has made it feel especially safe here — and I have hardly seen anyone without a mask indoors,” she said. “I know this isn’t the case for other cities and counties, though. I am definitely on the more cautious side of COVID, so I appreciate any sort of mask mandates.”
Despite the cautions Durham is taking, she has concerns about what COVID will continue to look like for people from all over.
“I am worried about what this will look like for the next year(s),” she said.
So many questions roar in her head. “How long until we reach herd immunity? How long until more folks get vaccinated? How long until we can resume our life at a semi-regular pace? How long until I can go places freely without panic or anxiety?” she said.
She’s also frustrated that people seem to be apathetic about COVID and stopping it. “I’m frustrated especially knowing it may be another year without spending Thanksgiving with my family, while many folks are confident traveling without any precautions or worries, many of whom are unvaccinated,” she said. “I think we’ve gotten to a state of just accepting COVID as is rather than pushing for more vaccinations so that we can actually push through this.”
“How do you feel about mask mandates in schools?”
Nguyen believes mask-wearing is an easy way we can show others we care about them.
“As a United Methodist, our first rule is to ‘do no harm.’ Wearing a mask is a simple way that I can show love for my neighbor,” she said.
But Nguyen’s passion about this topic doesn’t pertain only to her religious beliefs. She’s naturally a compassionate person, and she knows lives are more important than education. Plus, as a mother, she knows the heightened stakes of school mask mandates.
“Both of my children — in middle school and high school — are in schools which require masks. If their schools did not mandate masks from students, teachers, and staff, I would not have them in school,” she said. “Their lives and the lives of those around us are too precious.”
Rachel is also a loving and considerate person who believes mask mandates should be in place. “I’m all for it,” she said. “I don’t think public schools should allow for masks to be optional.”
Additionally, we interviewed a couple of N.C. teachers about similar topics, and they agreed on this main truth: Students and school staff must take precautions, such as social distancing, sanitizing, and mask-wearing.
“What are your hopes for N.C. with these issues?”
Nguyen believes people need to focus more on collective health and compassion. “My hope is that we can lay aside our individualism and make choices that demonstrate love for our neighbors,” she said.
Rachel feels hopeful about the advancements we’ve seen around stopping COVID. “I’m hopeful now that a booster shot will soon be widely available for folks to take,” she said. “I’m also hopeful that although there’s still many questions and concerns about Delta, we at least know more about COVID than we did a year ago. Masks work, and vaccines work. Having those questions and uncertainties somewhat answered feels good.”
Women and COVID as a whole
Not all women will feel the same way, and both Nguyen and Rachel are members of the clergy. However, research shows that most women wear their masks, especially compared to men. According to a WebMD survey, 73 percent of women will wear masks as long as experts recommend them, while only 63 percent of men will do the same.
Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, a postdoctoral researcher in New York University’s Department of Psychology, backs this up. She explained how women are more likely to take precautions for other people.
“[Women] also pay more attention to the health-related needs of others. So it’s not surprising that these tendencies would translate into greater efforts on behalf of women to prevent the spread of the pandemic,” she said, as shared in a CNN article.
So no matter how tired of COVID you are, this is true: To protect each other, we need to get vaccinated, wear masks, and have empathy for those around us.