Between crowded lecture halls, whispers of friends isolating themselves because of the exhibition and even a few courses returning to online education, it is clear that the pandemic is far from over.
To help stop the spread of COVID-19 and allay fears of students with varying comfort levels, on August 5, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s the mask’s mandate came into effect. “The recent arrival in the United States of the more infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 has resulted in a sharp increase in cases across the country, including here in Wisconsin,” a university statement read.
However, for some students, this mask mandate is perceived as an attack on individual freedoms.
Enter “Unmask UW”, an organization founded by sophomore Lane Whitten. According to Whitten, the organization has 30 members who prefer to remain anonymous, and it was launched on August 3, just after UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced the masks’ current tenure.
The mission of Unmask UW revolves around questioning two concepts: the legality and the necessity of the mask mandate.
Mask warrants have been contested in Wisconsin, with the Supreme Court annulling Governor Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate in March. While Wisconsin does not currently have a statewide mask mandate, Dane County does. Although in the eyes of the members of Unmask UW, UW-Madison does not reserve the right to declare a mask mandate separate from that of Dane County.
âThe university needs legislative approval to issue COVID restrictions,â Whitten said. “It is not the right or the responsibility of the administrators of the University of Wisconsin to make health decisions for students and staff.”
Aside from the legality issue, members of Unmask UW also question the need for the mask warrant. As of September 29, 92.7% of students and 93.8% of employees were fully vaccinated at UW-Madison, a statistic that leads Unmask UW to believe UW-Madison’s high vaccination rate is on its own. sufficient protection against the coronavirus.
âStudents and those vaccinated as a whole are at very low risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19,â Whitten said.
However, some students concerned about their immunocompromised peers provided counterpoints to Unmask UW’s belief that masks are unnecessary.
âI certainly don’t like having to wear a mask all the time, but I think the minor inconvenience is worth it to protect immunocompromised people and others at high risk of COVID-19,â said Ryan Okushi, first year.
In addition to worrying about higher risk students, many other students have expressed concern about older faculty. “A mask warrant is the best plan right now to protect our community, especially our teachers,” said first year Kate Sarvady.
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During its first two months as an organization, Unmask UW became somewhat of a dividing point among students, with some calling the founders “selfish.”
âIf they want to get sick that’s fine, but they shouldn’t put others at risk,â said freshman Brian Lin.
Despite the backlash the organization has received – both through passionate comments left on Instagram and through posts from UW-Madison herself – its members continue to promote their beliefs through the organization. Instagram account and his Blog.
Unmask UW was originally founded as an Instagram page, but the organization has started to hit the streets. The group’s first protest was on September 3 and they are planning another protest for October 1.
âWe had about 30 people at the protest, including Orlando Owens, who is running for state treasurer,â Whitten said. âAlthough our numbers are lower than we expected, we have been fortunate enough to speak to several news channels and gain greater visibility for our organization. ”
With cases apparently dipping one week and increasing the next, the future of the pandemic is unstable and, against Unmask UW’s will, UW-Madison shows no signs of easing restrictions related to COVID-19. Dane County’s mask mandate is due to expire on October 8, although the mandate may be renewed afterwards.
Despite this, Unmask UW refuses to step down and its members plan to continue their mission to dismantle the mask mandate.
“We hope to have a discussion in the future with university administrators and legislature leaders on why the university should no longer impose COVID restrictions,” Whitten said.
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