At this point, it’s inevitable that my time in high school will be defined by COVID-19. Only my freshman year at Riverside-Brookfield High School has been untouched by the pandemic, which shut down school just before the fourth quarter of my sophomore year. 

In fact, if masks are still required in school any later than March 13, I’ll have spent more of my high school career masked or online than in a normal environment. Now, as I stare down graduation, college and all else that is ahead of me, I long to end my time at RBHS as I began it, without a mask, able to see the faces of my friends and teachers. 

When school went online as quarantine began in 2020, I stayed in my house and logged on to Zoom every day. Last year, after we switched to a hybrid learning plan, I was simply glad to be attending school in-person, and wore my mask happily. 

When COVID vaccines became available to my age group I got both my shots, I got my booster too. I’ve followed the rules every step of the way, and even now, as the omicron variant has run its course, and cases are plummeting, I am seeing very little relief. 

I believe my experience to be typical of most RB students, nearly 77 percent of us are vaccinated. By being between the ages of 14 and 18, we are at a much lower risk for hospitalization from COVID-19 according to many accredited sources. 

Yes, students aren’t the only ones in the school building, but RBHS’ COVID dashboard tells me that 95.3 percent of staff are vaccinated, meaning they don’t have too much to worry about either. 

After nearly two years of disruption to our education, all signs point towards it being safe to unmask.

Seeing Gov. Pritzker’s plan to lift the statewide mask mandate for just about everything besides schools confuses me greatly. It seems that many of our government officials seem to view schools as areas particularly susceptible to COVID. 

Yes, schools certainly do have a large number of individuals confined indoors, and it’s been difficult to socially distance in school, but the age demographic has to be considered. 

COVID isn’t going go away anytime soon, so rather than trying to stop the spread of all cases, government officials should do their best to prevent serious cases of the virus resulting in hospitalization or death. 

It won’t take much to prevent such cases in schools. This is simply by virtue of school populations being composed of younger people, less likely to suffer from comorbidities such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and more, which may exacerbate COVID’s severity.

Imposing such stringent regulations as required masking for all onto a population at low risk from COVID simply doesn’t make any sense to me. Instead, our leaders should focus on doing their best to help kids start to recover from the emotional and social maladies brought upon them by masks and other restrictions. 

These effects of masking and the pandemic are surely more detrimental to students than a case of COVID. It is time to let kids and parents decide what’s best for them, to let students finally get back to our normal lives.

Liam Mathews is the editor-in-chief of The Clarion, the newspaper at Riverside-Brookfield High School.