On March 1, Stanford updated its COVID-19 guidelines so that masks are no longer required on campus in most cases. An email sent to the student body read: “With certain exceptions, face coverings will no longer be required but will continue to be strongly recommended on-site, regardless of vaccination status.” So how did the Stanford community react to their newfound freedoms? People can now communicate and smile at each other—indoors—without having their faces shielded by a mask.
The reaction on Fizz, an anonymous social platform popular among Stanford students, was one of elation. One post which read “All my homies NOT wearing masks at the gym #freedom” received 248 upvotes as of publication. Not only did students embrace the maskless life on the platform, but they also rejected the demonization of people who choose not to wear masks. One Fizz post said “if you choose to have your mask off in class, I have no respect for you.” This post received 74 downvotes.
But that was students’ reaction on a digital platform where they cannot be identified by name— did people in the real world actually change their behavior? When I went to the gym on the morning of Wednesday March 2, I estimated that 75-80% of people were still working out with their masks on. At the dining hall afterwards, a similar percentage of students still wore their masks while getting food at the buffet, even if they took off their masks as soon as they sat down to eat.
Things are similar in Stanford classrooms, where the mask mandate is still in force. The University seems to believe that COVID-19 can only spread in lecture halls. As I walked to class in the History Corner, people ran up the stairs inside the building with no masks on. However, as soon as they entered the classroom, the masks came right back on.
Even if students are willing to criticize masks mandates on an anonymous platform, there is little evidence that Stanford students are taking their masks off. There was little difference overall between March 1 and March 2 when it came to mask wearing. Some students even continued wearing masks while sitting alone in the library.
Many people view mask wearing as an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19, even though the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend mask wearing for healthy individuals in our region. Santa Clara County, one of the most COVID-conscious counties in the nation, has now lifted its mask mandate. Yet Stanford students, a population of young, healthy vaccinated individuals, continue to wear masks in hopes of “following the science.”
But some students do not care about COVID-19 — they are more interested in going along with the group. One sophomore I talked to, who was still wearing a mask, said she did not want to be seen as an “anti-masker” or “anti-science." The vast majority of Stanford students have been vaccinated, and many have been infected by and recovered from the virus. Thus, there is almost zero risk of severe COVID-19 infection for most students on campus. Yet the majority still wear their masks in public places, whether out of fear of the plague or fear of social ostracism.
So, with few exceptions, Stanford students continue to cling to their masks. Though the campus mask mandate has ended, students are following a herd mentality instead of science. The winds of freedom do not seem to be blowing very hard at Stanford right now.