When the city of Chicago lifted its indoor mask mandate for public spaces on Feb. 28, many schools and businesses chose to continue requiring masks indoors. The mask mandate also remained for correctional and health care facilities, homeless shelters, and public transit.
At Columbia College Chicago, which announced on Feb. 25 that masks would continue to be required in classrooms and shared campus spaces, students, faculty and staff had complex reactions to navigating a city where masks were now required in some places and not others.
Associate Professor Keith Kostecka, 62, of Elmwood Park is still committed to wearing a mask while out in public. “I don’t know what I might encounter in terms of individuals or people that might have issues of one sort or another with regard to possible Covid-19 exposure,” he said.
Kostecka, who is also a member of the Faculty Senate, said appreciates the college’s caution throughout the pandemic. He credits the president of Columbia College, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, for the low number of COVID-19 cases at the college, saying, “He’s led us well through the Covid-19 crisis.” Specifically, he cites the vaccine and mask requirements, holding classes in larger spaces to allow for social distancing and installing safety technology such as temperature scanners and hand sanitizer throughout campus buildings.
Sasha Zaporozhets, a 21-year-old senior music major at Columbia, plans to continue wearing a mask whenever she is in spaces where she is unsure of her exposure risk.
“I’m not wearing masks when I am outside just to go somewhere, but I think where there’s a lot of places I would wear a mask,” she said. Continuing to wear a mask on campus poses some difficulties for her as a music major. “It’s not very comfortable, especially for me as a singer,” she said. Still, she thinks the college is right to keep the mask requirement.
Masks have also been an obstacle for Brianna Murray, 21, because she is a theater major and masks complicate acting. They’ve also caused her stress as a resident advisor because she has had to enforce wearing them in the dorms. Still, she is in favor of the college’s mask mandate because she is immunocompromised, and her parents are in the medical field.
Murray wishes the city of Chicago was more cautious, too. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for the city to be lifting the mask mandate,” Murray said. “I think that it’s probably more for optics.”
Murray expects most audience members to stop wearing masks at performances now that the city’s mask mandate is gone. “I worked retail, and customer/food service the past two summers and the first chance people get, they take that mask off because they’ve been told it’s safe,” she said. However, she thinks Columbia audiences will keep wearing masks at shows for a little while longer because of the school’s ongoing mandate.
“I’m curious as to whether it’s gonna become a problem in the residence halls,” she said, adding that many students are already more casual about wearing masks. “They’re leaving the room and walking around without having a mask with them, which is kind of concerning.” Still, she hopes the college keeps the mask requirement until the end of the spring semester.
“I feel, as an art school, it’s really collaborative and you’re doing a lot of work with other people no matter what field you’re in,” she said, “and so I think that having masks on is still the right decision.”
Zaporozhets agrees: “It’s necessary just to keep safety in the community.”