When I saw the parent enter the classroom maskless, I immediately thought, “Thank God I’m vaccinated”, but if you looked closely, my eye was twitching. I didn’t care the next day was June 15th—the day when all businesses were to reopen and mask mandates lifted. We’re living in a pandemic, and California’s reopening implied a false sense of returning to normalcy. The idea that we could return to pre-pandemic life was an illusion as it disregarded the death toll, which is currently 65,965 deaths in California at the time of publication. Plus, the summer camp I worked at—one that was Catholic—requested people to continue wearing masks regardless of vaccination status.
When the parent asked “Do kids still have to wear their masks indoors”, I responded that yes, the kids must continue doing so per our mask policy. “Except outdoors,” I added in an effort to placate his evident frustration. “But it’s June 15 tomorrow,” he retorted.
Every staff member was exposed; unfortunately, we couldn’t quarantine because we were short-staffed.
My boss saw the opportunity to step in. “Are masks necessary for kids?” the parent repeated. I was stunned as my boss answered, “I don’t think so.” My hands trembled with the intense urge to cry out “That’s not true,” so I crossed my arms to control the shakes while maintaining a poker face. For being my superior, I expected her to know our mask policy, but when I informed her about it, she merely shrugged it off.
In the second week of summer camp, we paid the price for my boss’s indifference. A child tested positive for COVID-19 and we were reported to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for violating safety guidelines—prompting my boss to modify her dangerous agenda. Sadly, it shouldn’t have taken a child to contract a deadly virus to enforce the rules.
I was thankful to have tested negative, but angry because I live with high-risk family members and a newborn baby cousin. Every staff member was exposed; unfortunately, we couldn’t quarantine because we were short-staffed. To this day, it amazes me that the camp wasn’t shut down, but the next two weeks were filled with extreme anxiety. Each day I came to work, my stomach was rolling with nerves as I consistently tuned in to my body and kept a close eye on the kids for any COVID-19 symptoms. Reminding myself that I was vaccinated hardly soothed the stress. All I could reflect on was my boss’s irresponsibility had unnecessarily risked my safety, my staff members, and our families.
The noncompliance with our mask policy was a reminder of how politicized mask-wearing has become, and now threatens the security of public health. Minimum wage workers, educators, and other industry employees are at the forefront of the risk. News headlines are filled with stories about essential workers dealing with verbal and/or physical assault from maskless individuals.
These workers should never have to choose between their personal health and a job. COVID-19 has destabilized the economy as lockdown ensued, causing businesses to lose money and increased unemployment rates. During this time, we acknowledged employees as the backbone of the U.S. economy. Workers’ goods and services provide them a wage, allowing them to purchase those goods. My work as a summer camp counselor enabled parents to resume working in person as our economy reopened; while they worked, staff members and I were compensated for entertaining their kids. But the absence of masks during a pandemic can jeopardize the economy’s reopened status. The economy runs on a teamwork basis: when one player doesn’t fulfill a critical task, the rest of the team suffers and the project crumbles.