OPINION: Local students should follow international students’ lead to prevent the spread of COVID-19

(Illustration by Julie Freijat | Collegian Media Group)

We are starting this semester in the middle of a global pandemic, and we are going to have a few in-person classes. As such, all of us need to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

I found it hysterical that individuals in the U.S. are denying to wear a mask. Observing people get angry at grocery stores over a simple request to wear a mask is hilarious — albeit deeply concerning. One does not expect citizens of a developed, western, modern country and a world superpower to behave in such a childlike manner.

Nevertheless, masks are important and masks work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a mask is recommended based on emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads mainly among people in close contact with one another, so the use of masks is particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Classrooms and other spaces on our campus are places where we might be in close contact with one another, and social distancing will be difficult to maintain. We may not have enough space to maintain a safe distance with one another all the times. However, if we choose to wear masks in our classrooms, we could play a crucial role in limiting and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Something interesting I observed while walking on campus pre-pandemic was international students who were wearing masks to classes despite the absence of a pandemic. If you look closely, you might find some international students, particularly those from East Asia, were wearing masks even though they may not be sick.

In my interactions with these students, I found that they wear masks out of self-care and to avoid spreading any diseases to strangers. They wear masks even when they show mild cold symptoms. Some of them — although perfectly healthy — wear masks as a precaution to avoid contracting any diseases. Taking these simple steps can help stop the spread of diseases — including COVID-19 — and maintain a clean and healthy educational environment.

To give a few examples, people in Japan wear masks when feeling sick as a courtesy to stop any sneezes from landing on other people. People in the Philippines wear masks, especially while riding bikes, to deflect polluted air from affecting their skin.

These examples illustrate the mindset of international students and the citizens of their home countries. In the West, particularly in the United States, wearing a mask is often stigmatized. However, in Asian countries, individuals who do not wear masks are stigmatized.

When students from these countries come to the U.S., they continue to follow basic practices of wearing masks and face coverings. It acts as a precautionary measure, and inspires other students to do the same. However, even after doing all they can for the general public, international students and immigrants from Asia become the unwilling recipients of racist and xenophobic attacks.

International students all over the country wear masks to classes to avoid contracting or spreading any diseases. I wore a mask when I got pollen allergies, which are not even contagious. I did it out of respect for other students and to protect myself from further health issues.

Local students should follow the lead of international students and wear masks to classes once the semester begins. Wearing a mask is perfectly safe and does not cause any additional health issues.

All of us can learn from Asian culture and take care of each other by doing the bare minimum of wearing a mask when we are on or near campus. Our actions of wearing masks, social distancing and maintaining cleanliness can go a long way in stopping the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic can end for good if we work together.

Let’s do our duty and wear masks when we return to campus without complaining. Let’s follow the mask mandate to prevent the spread of the disease. Let’s learn from our friends from abroad and follow their lead in wearing masks and face coverings to keep ourselves, friends, family and surroundings healthy and disease-free.

We are one proud Kansas State family — let’s take the responsibility of looking after one another.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a Collegian contributor and a senior in management information systems and mass communications. He is also the international student affairs director in the Student Governing Association cabinet. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.