To mask or not to mask: Continuing COVID concerns at UK


Jack Weaver

A student wearing a mask exits Gatton Student Center on the first day of in-person classes on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Courtney Suber, Reporter

The COVID-19 pandemic caught not only the University of Kentucky off guard but the whole world. The pandemic forced people into isolation and created restrictions on the basis of health that were unheard of prior. It created such an uproar that people are still cautious of the virus over two years later, when it’s been seemingly contained and minimized.

The effects which it had on college campuses were also enormous and changed campus culture for the foreseeable future.

At UK, students were forced online for a portion of the pandemic, then later required to wear masks in most public spaces. These mandates were only lifted and adjusted earlier this year, with individuals being allowed to ditch masks in places like the Gatton Student Center, dining halls and athletic events. In June 2022, mask mandates were completely lifted.

This decision was met with many supporters, and as a result, most on campus reverted back to pre-pandemic habits. However, there are still students and staff at UK who are still concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19.

Summer Brown, a professor at UK who specializes in earth and environmental sciences, is one staff member who still chooses to wear masks on campus.

“I wear a mask most days in my large lecture class. I’m primarily trying to avoid the setback of getting COVID or one of the many other viruses floating around right now,” she said. “I teach a course that involves weekend field trips. Because I ask them to set aside so much time, I owe it to them to stay healthy so we can complete those trips as planned.”

Drew Heverin, a professor in the Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies department, also chooses to wear a mask on campus. “(Wearing a mask) is for the sake of creating a barrier. I wear a mask so I don’t pass back and forth germs between my house and campus,” he said.

In addition to staff concerns, students also hold concerns about COVID-19.

“I used to wear a mask in class mostly because we’re in such a confined space,” freshman and political science major Courtney Fletcher said. “I don’t feel entirely comfortable being maskless around people because there’s just so many.”

Although the concern for COVID-19 is still rife, mask-wearers on campus also wish to guard against other illnesses that may float around UK.

“Obviously I started wearing the mask (because of the pandemic), but when you start to realize that people are constantly sick, and a lot of people don’t cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough or anything … I can’t deal with it,” Fletcher said.

Brown shared a similar sentiment, saying she wished to avoid other viruses that may be spread on campus.

“While I’m concerned about the amount of respiratory illness on campus right now, I’m not specifically concerned about COVID more than I am flu or other respiratory illnesses,” she said.

Heverin shared a different perspective on mask wearing to guard against other illnesses. “(One of my) reasons for wearing a mask is more to protect students from potential infections coming from my kid who is in elementary school,” he said.

Faculty and students agreed: the mask wearing that some engage in is definitely not in vain, though.

“I haven’t had COVID yet, as far as I know, and that’s probably not for lack of testing,” Brown said. “As someone who suffers from seasonal allergies, I’ve probably had to take more tests and have been antibody tested more often than the average person.”

Fletcher also reported avoiding campus sicknesses.

“I know a lot of people who have gotten sick,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘Oh, there’s just the flu going around.’ ‘Oh, a few people caught COVID, so that’s why they’re not in class today.’ ‘Oh no, it’s just a really bad cold.’ I’ve already heard of so many people being sick. I haven’t gotten sick once.”

Although COVID-19 has somewhat faded out of the news, some individuals on campus still choose to engage in mask wearing. The pandemic has altered how many go about protecting against illnesses, including mask wearing.