BREAKING: Students who Wear Masks Incorrectly not doing it to be Insensitive

Person wearing a surgical mask

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to restrain myself from shaking the shoulders of the person in front of me in the Sharples line for wearing their mask as a chin strap. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to scream at people for wearing their mask below their nose while in “transit” areas; just because you’re in Sci Commons twenty feet from an exit door or passing through Shane Lounge on your way to Kohlberg, doesn’t mean you get to pull your mask down.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to write a long-winded Facebook post upon seeing people with their mask below their nose in the Matchbox just because they’re biking in a corner or stretching facing a wall. I used to think that these people who wore their masks below their nose or around their chin indoors were so immensely infuriating, especially with recent Omicron surges … that is until I actually spoke to some of them. 

I conducted a series of interviews with below-the-nose-ers and chin strappers this past week, expecting to write a scathing exposé. But my time spent interviewing these students has made me realize that they’re actually really misunderstood, and my entire perspective on mask-wearing has dramatically changed. 

I found my first interviewee in the Field House lobby. Perched on the edge of one of the red leather couches, I could quite literally hear their mouth breathing from outside the building. As I approached the student, I asked them from behind my plexiglass shield if they might be interviewed for a Phoenix piece on masking policies on campus. To my surprise, they enthusiastically agreed.

This chin strapper didn’t even give me time to ask my first question. They immediately launched into a detailed description of the Fields House’s heating system, explaining how it was outdated and often non-functional. After a half-hour explanation (my shield was coated in precipitation), the student eventually got to their point: they were actually wearing their mask around their chin in the Field House to combat the building’s broken heating system. Their hot mouth breath was single-handedly keeping the Field House’s internal temperature at 70 degrees, and they had the numbers to prove it. This student, who had been wearing their mask below their chin since they returned to campus in early January for Spring pre-season, had three weeks of data that clearly indicated a rise in the Field House’s temperature between the time of their arrival and our interview. 

By keeping the Field House at 70 degrees, this student prevented athletes from pulling muscles and thus injuring themselves while exercising inside. They had aspirations of converting one of the administrative offices in the Field House into a sauna that would be exclusively powered by mouth breath, offering athletes a relaxing, stress-free getaway. By the end of the interview (the perspiration from my shield was pooled into a puddle around my feet), I was quite overcome with emotion at this student’s selfless act. All this time, I thought chin strappers just didn’t really care about other people’s safety. This student’s drive to protect athletes from injury and ensure that the “S” can be worn with pride proved the exact opposite. 

My next interviewee was a below-the-nose-er from Sharples. They explained to me that they were wearing their mask below their nose not because they had utter disregard for how COVID-19 transmission happens, or because they didn’t support masking policies and had to look like they cared to an extent, but rather because they were actually trying to improve the quality of Sharples food. That’s right — you heard me. This student was so generously wearing their mask below their nose, specifically on nights when Sharples served chicken, in the hopes that some of the plentiful moisture particles exiting their nasal cavities as they served themselves in the hot bar line would help moisten our entrees.

And I have to say that it works. Since I was standing behind them in line, I actually got to enjoy some of their re-moistened chicken. Never have I had anything so supple and tender before; each bite of chicken was heavenly. Quite honestly, I hope I end up behind this below-the-nose-er again. In fact, I think Sharples should actually hire a group of students who wear their mask below their nose or around their chin while indoors (they definitely won’t have a hard time finding numbers!) to perform this task of re-moistening. 

I encountered my last interviewee sitting in the middle of a group of students in a dark corner of McCabe basement. This student wasn’t hard to find; they had a smile so bright that a beautifully radiant, white glow emanated from their mouth and lit up the faces and books of their peers around them. As I approached this student, it actually became increasingly difficult to look directly at their face because of how luminescent their teeth were. Shielding my eyes, I asked them if they knew what COVID-19 was. The student did in fact say no, and went on for a decent bit of time about how it was a government hoax. They then proudly claimed authority for that anti-booster-vaccine Swatgossip post.

But quite honestly, their reasoning for wearing their mask around their chin completely canceled out their disturbing lack of care for human life. They explained to me that they wore their mask around their chin because their scarily bright smile actually helped light up the darkest corners of McCabe basement and thus allowed them and their friends to adequately study and ensure their academic success. Were they in McCabe basement because they were actually all supposed to be in isolation housing and were hiding from campus authorities? Yes, but does that really matter? This student’s actions could be servicing the next Nobel Prize winner, the next astronaut, the next great poet! Should they (and their ten friends who have amassed over 50 close contacts) really be put in isolation for testing positive? Should we really observe their anti-masking as so utterly and incomprehensibly reckless?

All this time, I thought masks were saving us, preventing unnecessary suffering. My interviews with these proud below-the-nose-ers and chin strappers have made me realize that wearing masks in such a way that they would prevent the rampant spread of a highly infectious virus with serious, even fatal, health consequences can actually do more harm than good. Without these upstanding, selfless members of our campus community, we would have injured athletes, un-moist chicken, and dark, hard-to-read-in corners of McCabe. I cannot imagine how many more of these same students are proudly de-masking, placing their noses and chins on display, to afford us similar comfortabilities. 

As I write this, my throat has become scratchy, and I cannot stop violently sneezing. I have this strange fatigue — my eyelids seem to be closing of their own accord — and my joints are actually so achy that my hands are cramping up with each word I type. But nevermind that, I know what I must do. 

Let’s just say that tomorrow, the Field House is going to be 72 degrees. 

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