Last school year, I publicly challenged the University of Chicago’s mask mandate, which crippled the classroom experience for deaf and hard-of-hearing people like me. The administration relented and nixed the mask requirement by spring 2022, but signs all over campus still encourage students to wear face coverings. President Paul Alivisatos’ imperative is to rescind that advice and give up the mask farce.
To frame the craziness that persists in our sliver of the ivory tower, consider UChicago’s official guidance: “The University recommends that individuals wear a mask in indoor settings when others are present . . . as part of our efforts to help prevent further increases in cases.”
Compare that to the City of Chicago’s public health landing page, which notes the rescission of the mask mandate but doesnot recommend wearing a face covering.
The university buttresses its official line with countless fliers across campus. In the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, I came across a mask-recommending sign that might as well tell students to waterboard themselves with their own sweat:
Moving toward the center of campus, a sign at the front entrance of the Joseph Regenstein Library declares, in all caps: “MASKS RECOMMENDED.” The Thinker chief of staff kindly sent me this image:
A sign on the front door of the Albert Pick Hall for International Studies tells students to “Wear a Face Covering In University buildings”:
In the Arley D. Cathey Learning Center, which is on the third floor of the Harper Memorial Library, each table has signs telling students to “wear a face mask at all times and maintain 6’ distance from other study space users.” That guidance is outdated but remains omnipresent for those who choose to study in that facility.
Finally, a Thinker correspondent sent me a photo of a poster in the basement of the UChicago Law School that tells people to “[w]ear a face covering” because “a sneeze can travel up to 65mph”:
UChicago’s mask guidance would make the casual passerby think that he is stuck in 2020. But it is almost 2023. There is no reason for UChicago to encourage students to wear masks, which are medically unnecessary and socially pernicious.
As President Joe Biden said, “the pandemic is over.” COVID-19 deaths are down to 294 per day perThe New York Times dashboardat the time of writing, and even that figure is an overcount because of what The Hilldescribes as the “practice of adding COVID-19 as a contributing cause of death to every death certificate in all SARS-CoV-2 positive hospitalized patients.” Also, substantially less than 1% of COVID deaths occur within the 29-and-younger cohort.
Pair those data with a Physics of Fluidsstudy showing that surgical and loosely fitted KN95 masks offer just 12.4% and 3.4% filtration efficiencies, respectively, and it is clear that encouraging students to wear masks is a futile exercise in hypochondria.*
UChicago’s mask guidance also encourages students to make life more difficult for their professors and fellow students.
Masks complicate instructors’ ability to hear their pupils, read their facial expressions—which can convey boredom, confusion, or comprehension—and adjust lesson plans accordingly.
Students, especially deaf and hard-of-hearing people like me, also suffer from UChicago’s mask recommendation. A survey co-sponsored by Cochlear and the Hearing Loss Association of America found that 89% of those with hearing loss “report experiencing accessibility issues since the pandemic began,” encompassing “but not limited to the ability to lipread due to face masks.”
It is no longer 2020. UChicago must stop encouraging and normalizing masking, which is a medically unnecessary, alarmist exercise that induces negative externalities. Vulnerable visitors and professors should not be denied the right to wear a face covering, but blanket masking recommendations that apply to college students—generally the healthiest and least vulnerable people in America—are outdated and harmful.
Furthermore, with classrooms and student facilities mostly empty for the Thanksgiving holiday, this is the perfect time for custodians to finally lay waste to the pro-mask signs that have polluted the halls of UChicago for almost three years.
It is time for President Alivisatos to declare an end to the mask farce.
* Tightly fitted KN95s give the wearer 46.3% filtration efficiency, which is a step down from the ideal F.E. of 95%, but good luck getting a college student to achieve lab conditions with a (likely reused) KN95.The Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention also states that a “user seal check” is required each timea user dons an N95 in order to ensure the correct seal.
** The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Declan Hurley is the Chicago Thinker’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. A rising fourth year at the University of Chicago who is studying Economics and History, Declan is also a small-business owner, the editor of FDL Review, and an active participant in the politics of his home state, North Carolina. He loves to partake in the battle over ideas; and, in his free time, he likes to run, read, and review public-opinion polling.