My friends got to play sports, but I had to go home; my friends got to experience first grade, but I was admitted into the hospital. At age six, I developed a severe autoimmune disorder after contracting Lyme disease and felt isolated and left out during some of the most critical years of my life. Though I still struggle with my autoimmune disorder, I came to Deerfield expecting that my childhood ordeals would never again separate me from my peers. After all, Deerfield was supposed to be a community in which people’s unfortunate circumstances of the past could be forgotten about. I was right, until Deerfield’s administration decided to mandate indoor masking for all unvaccinated students this year.
Let me be clear: I am not against vaccines. I grasp the science of virus prevention and mitigation, and I believe that most people should take the COVID-19 vaccine for the sake of their own health. My parents are vaccinated, and so are my doctors. However, a team of immunologists that have known me for twelve years recommended that I forgo the vaccine due to my autoimmune disorder. They agreed that my risk of exhibiting an adverse reaction to the vaccine is greater than my risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
Hence, I am unvaccinated. So are countless people like me around the world. I understand that there are natural sacrifices that I have to make regularly as a result of my autoimmune disorder: picking up supplements and probiotics from the Health Center, leaving campus every four weeks to receive an antibody infusion, and undergoing COVID-19 testing more frequently than my peers. Sure, these are inconvenient tasks, but I understand why they are necessary, and more importantly, they do not make me feel left out or inferior. On the other hand, while Deerfield’s dedication to maintaining strong community health should be commended, I believe that their mask policy for community members who cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine is ostracizing and based more on allowing the administration to feel at ease than on scientific realities.
For starters, in most of my classes, I am the only student wearing a mask. Most students around me are fully vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the odds of a fully vaccinated person becoming hospitalized as a result of contracting COVID-19 is 1 in 20,000. In other words, Deerfield’s administration has forced students like me to wear a mask while indoors, with no end date in sight, because they are concerned about the 0.005% chance of the coronavirus affecting a community member in a substantial way. Meanwhile, cars drive all around campus, and according to the National Security Council, one’s chance of being killed by a car crash is 1 in 107, or 0.935%. Clearly, “safety” is not the goal, and I am hardly protecting “community health” by wearing a mask.
I realize that there are other unvaccinated community members, particularly students, who may feel differently about this issue. However, it is worth noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges, “In states reporting, 0.00%-0.03% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death.” It is apparent that I do not pose a significant threat to anybody on this campus, even other unvaccinated students. The global pandemic is now of low risk to the vast majority of Deerfield students, faculty, and staff, and the numbers suggest that forced masking is unnecessary and runs counter to Deerfield’s values of acceptance and equity. I do not feel accepted or considered an equal when I am the only person at the classroom table wearing a mask.
I remain grateful to attend a school that has a long history of working with students to improve people’s experiences, particularly those of disadvantaged students. However, I feel ostracized every day at a place that prides itself on inclusion. I never used to feel this way, and this is not to suggest that Deerfield is an overall hostile environment. Rather, this one policy has tainted my view of Deerfield as an institution which does what it is best for all of its students. I feel isolated because I know that the rules are different for me. I have been called an “anti-vaxxer” behind my back when people see me in a mask because that is what others assume about the few students who don masks this year. These comments can be attributed to Deerfield’s policy because masks have become visible markers of distinction.
I believe that Deerfield should continue routine testing for unvaccinated community members because this is a policy that is based in sound science and has no negative impact on my overall mental health. However, the Academy should abolish its indoor mask mandate for people like me. Students and faculty members who show signs of illness should be encouraged to mask up, but we cannot wear masks forever. Also, as someone with a compromised immune system, I need to build up my natural immunity, but this is visibly more difficult to achieve in a mask and detrimental to my physical health.
To Deerfield’s administration: Thank you for all of your efforts to balance community health and students’ wellbeing. I ask that you reconsider your mask policy for medically vulnerable community members.