To mask or not to mask?

Experts give insight on the psychology behind lifting the mask mandate

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By Juan Ramírez

This story has been updated to include comments from Elena Nicoladis and Amy Flanigan.

Three weeks after the provincial health officer removed the indoor mask order, the Langara community is still anxiously debating whether to continue wearing a mask.

Julianne Beadle, a psychology professor at Langara, said there will no doubt be some uncertainty among students and staff.

“Especially because we’ve been wearing masks most of the time for the last two years,” she said. “So, I think some people may experience some relief, other people may be experiencing a bit of nervousness or anxiety.”

She said the stress associated with mask removal can affect a person’s memory and ability to learn.

Beadle said most of her students are still wearing masks even though it is not mandatory.

“So I think that’s interesting,” she said. “Because we know that subjective norms, so what other people are doing, who we kind of look to, can influence our own behaviour.” 

After moving to online learning for a year, Langara resumed face-to-face courses last fall, but masks were mandatory until March 11. A week before the mask mandate was lifted, Langara made rapid antigen tests available for all members of the Langara community. Langara has 22,000 students enrolled annually, coming from 100 countries. 

Elena Nicoladis, a psychology professor from the University of British Columbia, said masks have shielded people from COVID-19.

“Masks have been very protective and have been very effective in protecting us against the wider spread of the disease. And there’s clear research backing that up,” Nicoladis said. “If people are at all nervous about taking masks off and seeing each other in person and thinking that the rates of contagion might increase, I think there’s a grain of truth to that.”

David Shmil, a bioinformatics bachelor’s student at Langara, said he is accustomed to people wearing masks, so now he is anxious at the campus.

“Personally, I still feel a bit on edge when I see somebody walking down the hall without a mask,” Shmil said.  “I think that’s probably because I’m so used to seeing a mask, and I’m still a bit scared of everything.” 

While some are wary of removing their face coverings, others are ready to shed their masks.

Amy Flanigan, an early childhood education professor at Langara, said she supports the government in regards to the lifting of the mask mandate.

“I trust the leaders. I trust them to make the right decisions for us, they’ve done the best that they could with all the knowledge that was coming at them in all different directions, up until this point,” Flanigan said. “I don’t think it was too early.”

Anthony Virdo, a student engagement officer, said masks provide a sense of protection and coverage, so it might take time for some to acclimatize. For him, he found he got more comfortable not wearing a mask in certain spaces after the first day.

“But I noticed that I still wear a mask, I still keep a mask on me,” he said. “So, I think it’ll be gradual, and that some people will be more comfortable in maybe a month or two months. 

“And there may be some people six months or a year from now still more comfortable wearing a mask.”

 

ReporterJuan Ramírez explores student’s opinions regarding the lifting of the mask mandate. Stefany Martinez, a kinesiology student, gives her opinion on removing face coverings.

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