Students gather to protest the mask mandate at the Recreational Eagle Center

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Image taken by Morgan Hose.

Morgan Hose, Assistant Editor

On Friday, Oct. 29, students gathered outside Drake Hall to protest the mask mandate at the Recreational Eagle Center (REC). Josh Bourget, a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse led the protest.

“When the REC closed down the basketball courts a month ago, their reasoning they said was for a persistent disregard for wearing masks,” said Bourget, “I thought it was insensitive because that persistent disregard is people sprinting up and down a court and not being able to breathe. To frame it as a persistent disregard, people aren’t disregarding it, people just can’t breathe.”

In an email sent out by Director of Recreational Sports Jeff Keenan on Sept. 24, he said, “as we all know, masks covering your mouth and nose are mandatory when indoors on campus.  This includes within the Recreational Eagle Center and Mitchell Hall.  The mandate also includes always wearing the mask CORRECTLY, so that it covers your mouth AND nose.  We know that it may be uncomfortable to wear a mask while being active, but we do it for the safety and health of our friends and family members.  We’ve learned over the course of this pandemic that face masks/covering work to control the spread of COVID-19 and that it is safe to wear a face mask while exercising.  Please wear your mask, wear it correctly and ask your friends to do the same.”

“The other reason they said they closed down the courts was to protect your safety and the safety of others. I don’t need them to protect my safety because I have the vaccine to do that, and more than 80% of other people have the vaccine to protect them,” said Bourget, “and those that don’t have the vaccine don’t want to be protected, and it’s not my job as an American to protect those people that don’t want to be protected.”

“I was pro-mask earlier this year, but when I dove into it I didn’t know who we were protecting anymore. The third group we might be protecting is the people who have the vaccine and die. According to the CDC, only 10,000 fully vaccinated individuals have died from COVID-19,” said Bourget.

In 2019, 44,000 people died of pneumonia and we didn’t have a mask mandate, no one even thought of it. Natural deaths from natural diseases can’t be prevented through mask mandates. As a Political Science student, if we’re protecting no one and masks don’t protect anyone, the government has no right to restrict our liberty not to wear a mask and it goes against everything we stand for,” said Bourget.

“In any other gym in La Crosse, you don’t have to wear a mask. I have talked to people that haven’t gone to the REC because they go somewhere else where you don’t have to wear a mask,” said Bourget.

Another protester, Allie Heselton, said, “I think given the vaccination record at UWL and the number of people that don’t come back with a positive COVID-19 case, that we shouldn’t have to wear a face mask anymore.”

Eric Longhini, another protester, said, “I don’t have a big issue with the mask mandate, except for at the REC. Personally, when I work out I’d prefer not to have something over my face. I don’t mind the mask mandate in classes or the dining hall, but in the REC I support taking off the masks.”

“I know some people that don’t go to the REC because of the mask mandate, they went to gyms in town and are paying $20-$30 a month to go those gyms instead,” said Longhini.

Some protestors attended the protest in support of the mask mandate. Courtney Meyers said, “we are still in the middle of the pandemic and we can wear masks inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so we don’t have to go back to online classes. Even if people are vaccinated, we don’t have a 100% vaccination rate.”

“100% vaccination rate is ideal. We don’t have to wear the masks outside, but if you’re inside, I’d prefer it if people wore their masks,” said Meyers.

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