Masks are the new normal on the Goshen College campus this semester.

Though they aren’t overwhelmingly popular.

Masks muffle your voice, make your face hot and they can seem difficult to breathe in on occasion. 

Still, they are the new form of expression, giving you a way to be creative and send a message, and whether solid-colored or patterned, there is still a right and safe way to wear them.

“Nose, mouth, and gills,” said Corie Steinke, director of student involvement. “Whatever is intaking and outputting air is where your mask should go.”

As part of the Big Four, students are expected to wear their masks on campus when in a shared space or when encountering people within a 6-foot radius. 

These shared spaces include indoor public areas, private living spaces on campus if persons are not roommates or housemates, recreational sports outdoors where there will be close contact, working side-by-side with another person, and while driving or riding in a vehicle with others for a college-related activity/business

While COVID-19 numbers grow in Elkhart County, masks are cited as a crucial part of  maintaining the health of those around you. 

There have been over 6,000 cases reported in the area, and the Goshen Hospital has yielded a total of at least 1,000 positive test results since the pandemic began.

COVID-19 can stay on surfaces for several days, so it is important to start collecting more masks.

“It is always a rotating cycle of different masks that I have,” said Gilberto Perez, vice president of Student Life.

In addition to his role in Student Life, Perez also serves as chair on the Goshen College Pandemic Task Force, a group made up of administration and students that monitor ways to maintain campus health.

“I just make sure I have masks at different parts of my spaces, and I try to keep them as clean as possible,” Perez said. 

Faculty members and students are recommended to have at least two on hand and to wear a clean mask everyday.

“I have done it a couple of ways,” Perez said. “I use dishwasher soap in a container. I’ll wash it and rinse it out. If we have several masks that have been worn, I’ll wash them in the washer.”

As soon as his masks are washed, Perez will leave them out to dry before wearing them again.

The Elkhart County Health Department addresses that wet masks should never be worn.

“If it is wet, it is easier for things to stick on it,” said Katja Norton, a nursing student on the Pandemic Task Force. “It is easier to have particles stick on it that you don’t really want.”

These particles are the droplets released through breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing.

Quarantining your mask is another method of disinfecting.

“They could each have their own little ziplock bag, paper bag or whatever container you have on hand,” said Tom Hartzell, environmental science educator at Goshen College.

After a week, the masks will be safe to wear, and participants should keep track of the days.

If you choose to wear a disposable mask, do not wear the same one every day. These are intended for single use and their fragility prevents them from being washed properly.

They are not the most sustainable option, either.

“Masks are the new plastic waste problem,” Hartzell said. “Even though they look and feel like paper, they’re actually layers of plastic.”

Masks are not designed for recycling, but TerraCycle is a waste management company that specializes in recycling materials that are difficult to recycle. If students are interested in recycling their masks, Hartzell recommends learning more about them. 

For a last resort, “cut the ear loops before you throw them away,” Hartzell said.

Cutting the ear loops prevents animals from getting caught inside them in the environment.

When students need a breather, they can remove their masks so long as they are in a safe location. Masks are not required if students are outside and six feet apart.

Further questions regarding mask safety practices can be sent to the Pandemic Task Force, the residence life team, or Student Life.

“The mask is never about me,” Perez said. “The mask is always about someone else.”