To mask or not to mask? How to help our children through the shifting rules of COVID-19 Amy Himelright, Las Cruces Public Schools

All the environmental changes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic have been confusing and stressful for children and adults alike.  Every new mandate leads to a period of adjusting and adapting for our students and staff.  News that the mask mandate has been lifted may come with many questions, along with conflicting emotions and opinions. 

Las Cruces Public Schools offered the following to our staff as we continue to navigate our students through shifting protocols related to the public health orders. We are in an ever-changing environment that young people are learning to navigate on their own, and they will surely have questions.

Here are some pointers we are following:

  • Public health officials who guide decision making related to covid protocols take into consideration many variables including rates of transmission, vaccination rates, and comprehensive mitigation efforts to keep communities healthy.
  • Habits developed over the last two years including hand washing, keeping shared spaces clean and “covering your cough” are still important and should be practiced to mitigate the spread of all infectious diseases.
  • Some students and staff alike may have factors that make them especially vulnerable, such as aging parents or grandparents at home or compromised immune systems.  Many may choose to continue masking, and that’s okay.  Every decision is personal, and individuals should be respected and valued.
  • Kindness is key.  We are living in a polarized society fueled by opposing views that are often extreme and don’t reflect the majority.  As with all things, remember to respect one another and each person’s choice regarding masking.  Over two years, masking has become normal to many and for some, continued caution feels best so they might choose to continue wearing their masks.  For others, the option to unmask feels like long awaited relief.  Respect individual choice in this as you would any other personal choice.
  • Adults and students alike should ask trusted and informed adults if they have questions. Reach out to your school nurse, family doctor, or other informed provider if you have unresolved questions or concerns.
  • Above all else, adults can provide safe spaces for children to process whatever they are feeling in relation to the ever-changing pandemic landscape.  This is a great opportunity to model empathetic listening, fact seeking, and compassion.  If children are conflicted, validate their feelings with statements such as, “It makes sense that you are uncertain or confused, there have been so many changes.”

The takeaway here is that it is understandable for children and adults to feel confused by the constant flow of environmental changes resulting from the global pandemic.  Respect for personal choice, checking in with trusted adults and medical care providers, and space to process questions or fears are all important for our students as they continue to navigate life in a pandemic. 

As we begin to feel hope that the pandemic may be nearing an end, recovery from the impact of the last two years has just begun.  How we care for and respect one another is as important now as it has ever been.

Amy Himelright, LPCC, is the Director of Academic Counseling and Behavioral Health for Las Cruces Public Schools.