A Future Without Masks: Milford students and staff react to the end of the mask mandate


Alexis Cornett, Editor in Chief

Kelly Hemmerling’s first hour, Honors Pre-Calculus class the day after (top) and day before (bottom) the end of the mask mandate (Photo by Alexis Cornett).

Amid the immense losses wrought by COVID-19, it’s easy to forget the simple joys missed too — like a smile. But when most students and staff entered Milford High School on Feb. 28 without masks for the first time in two years, it was one of the first things many noticed. “I felt this weight lifted off our shoulders a little bit,” Milford High School Principal Kevin McKenna said. “It was really weird. I didn’t expect that. But for me, it was kind of that personal feeling of ‘okay, I’m ready. I’m good with this’, you know?.”

On Feb. 11, the Oakland County Health Division announced it was lifting the mask mandate at the end of the month. A 50% drop in cases and 72% drop in hospital admissions since January were among several positive statistics that led the Health Division to its decision. The mandate was first enacted for the 2021-2022 school year on Aug. 24, amid the resurgence in cases surrounding the Delta variant.

Mask requirements have been in place for all in-person schooling at Milford since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. In addition, social distancing and plastic partitions were required as a part of the Huron Valley safety guidelines.

The end of the mask mandate marked the end of any lingering COVID-19 guidelines. “I think one of the things that will live on are things like the wipes, which will always be available in classrooms,” McKenna said. “It’s not like you’re expected to walk into a classroom and wipe your area or put a partition up. All that has ended, so the masks were the last piece of that.”

Many of the lasting effects of COVID-19 go beyond health guidelines, as students are reconciling the disruption of their education. “I think that we are going to live with this for a while,” McKenna said. “Part of it is that kids missed stuff, and the teachers are going to struggle with that for years to come. And we’re gonna keep doing the best we can to fill that gap and make sure that we get the best education for our kids.”

Students can now choose whether or not they want to wear masks like juniors Angelina Maruskin (left) and Aubrey Snavley (right) (Photo by Alexis Cornett).

For many students and teachers, the tumultuous nature of the past two years bred uncertainty and challenges within the classroom. Junior Aubrey Snavley discussed her experience with online learning. “When I sat at my desk, you know, I could hear my mom talking in the living room. There’s so many outside stimuli going on that it was hard to focus on school, so I think that definitely affected me.”

English teacher Nathan Flynn detailed some of the challenges he faced remote teaching last year. “I had to take a month off I believe last January to March because my doctor recommended it because I have underlying health conditions. So that was difficult having to coordinate with a long term sub … and it was really hard to get out of the rhythm and then having to do a lot of the work at home without interacting with the students.”

Though the mask requirement is no longer in effect, students and staff members can choose to continue wearing masks if it makes them feel more comfortable. “I think the majority of people feel like yes, [the end of the mask mandate is] welcoming and they’re excited about not having to wear the mask every single day,” McKenna said. “But I also recognize there’s some people that are seeing it as maybe it makes them anxious or uncomfortable or they’re not ready to take the mask off and they don’t have to, you know, so I think there’s both sides of the coin there.”

As freshmen, Liam Bell and Owen Petrusha have yet to experience a “normal” high school situation. “You don’t have to stop wearing masks but they give you a choice,” Petrusha said. “You get to see your friends and everyone else’s faces and it makes you happier.” They were thrilled to regain this personal connection with their friends. “I’m looking forward to the dances and all the things that maybe were canceled before,” Bell said.

Students like Snavley, whose mother is a nurse, have decided to continue wearing masks for the foreseeable future. “For me, my mom is immune compromised. So it’s a different situation because I definitely have to keep my mask on because I have to protect my mom.” When asked if at some point she would feel comfortable without masks, Snavley responded, “My mom’s a nurse, and when she tells me that she feels safe, I think that that’s when I’ll feel safe as well because I trust her judgment.”

Flynn is excited that the COVID-19 case numbers have dropped to where we are able to interact face-to-face. He, like Snavley, has also chosen to continue wearing a mask in school. “Out of family requests basically,” Flynn said. “My parents are caretakers for my grandparents, and so they just request that I keep wearing it.”

With health at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we safely approach the prospect of a new tomorrow. “I felt that [students] didn’t hear enough of how resilient they are,” McKenna said. “That’s something that you can take with you for the rest of your life. You can adapt, you can adjust, you can be strong as long as you put your mind behind it.”