When pictures of crowded parties circulated social media this semester, many students were quick to frown at these images and pat themselves on the back for not taking part. However, although they may not have attended parties, many students continue to gather in smaller groups throughout the week, maskless and close together.
There is no difference in seeing 30 people at a party or 30 people collectively throughout the week.
In order for students to do their part in slowing the spread of the virus, they must continue to wear masks and social distance, even when gathering in low numbers. Anything less, and students will continue to pose a risk to themselves and those around them.
When in smaller groups, especially around people they know and trust, students tend to feel safer from the virus, hesitant to believe that friends would be carriers. However, that negligence is just as bad as those who partake in parties and large group events. Students cannot continue to hide under the false security that simply being in small groups keeps them safe.
Dena Jalalat, international relations and global studies sophomore, admits she is more likely to wear her mask around strangers than friends.
“If I’m in a big group, I’ll try to stay away but … whenever it comes to just a few people and we’re like inside, I tend not to wear a mask," Jalalat said.
Jalalat is not the only student with that mindset. Exercise science freshman Averi Noonan also says she feels safer with her inner circle.
“When I’m with people that I know … I trust them, and I know that they haven’t been with other groups,” Noonan said. “Everywhere they’ve been, I’ve been.”
How sure are we that our friends are staying safe, though?
Dr. David Lakey, vice chancellor for Health Affairs and chief medical officer for The University of Texas system, explained that while small groups are less likely to transmit COVID-19 to one another, there is still a risk present that we cannot ignore.
“Whenever you’re with somebody, if they have the virus and you’re within 6 feet, especially if you’re indoors, that virus can be spread to you through those respiratory droplets,” Lakey said. “The numbers decrease the probability that somebody in your group has the virus, but there’s still a possibility that when you’re with one person or two persons that one of those could have that virus and spread it to you.”
No matter how many people are around, when students gather close together without masks, they are actively contributing to the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
This doesn’t mean we all must go on lockdown and not interact until the pandemic is over. Isolating is hard, and social interaction is more necessary than ever as we struggle through this uncertain semester.
Even though we may be eager to see our friends after months of separation, we shouldn’t forget to maintain appropriate safety measures when we start to feel comfortable.
“Wearing the mask if you’re going to be within 6 feet … trying to stay more than 6 feet away from other individuals,” Lakey said. “Talking outside and spreading apart outside … all of those things can be very helpful.”
There is no doubt that this is a challenging semester, and socially distant hangouts are not how anybody prefers to see their friends. However, just because this pandemic is inconvenient does not mean that we can ignore it. As members of the UT community, students have a duty to be smart in how they act this semester, and that applies to all social interactions, not just large ones.
Mask up, spread out. The smarter we are, the safer we are, the better we make it through this.
Hosek is a psychology freshman from Austin, Texas.