Ashley Yen

On Nov. 15, masks became optional for Upper School students and teachers.

Katharine Yao, Staff Writer

Over the summer, my family purchased a pulse oximeter, and we would each measure our oxygen levels a few times per day—low oxygen levels can indicate damage in the lungs from Covid-19. I rolled my eyes at this ritual; it seemed so pointless with my entire family fully vaccinated. I always had a normal reading—between 98% and 99%—but then one of my relatives, Ying, tested at about 85%, far below the healthy threshold.

The next day, an ambulance drove up to the house. Restricted to the laundry room, the dog and I waited in tense silence as my family spoke with the paramedics, since Ying could not understand English. When I was released from my holding cell 30 minutes later, Ying was gone. When the paramedics tested Ying’s oxygen level, the look on their faces told them everything.

Ying was hospitalized and dependent on an oxygen concentrator for over a week. The doctors had to call my family to translate. I heard snippets of conversations: “please tell her…worsening…won’t listen.”

One doctor even said that Ying would have died if not for the vaccine.

But the vaccine alone is not enough; everyone Ying lived with was fully vaccinated. I was waiting in the living room when Ying was brought back home. They walked slowly, supported by their spouse and daughter, two wires poking into their nostrils. I was carrying a fresh box of tissues. By the end of the day, the box was empty.

And so, after receiving the school email detailing the plan to lift the mask mandate, I knew I was not ready to be unmasked at school or anywhere else. After witnessing Ying’s illness, I realized that preventing the spread of Covid with masks is just as important as being vaccinated. Vaccines are great—but, even though they open up new opportunities, nothing can offer complete protection. I do not wear a mask to protect myself, but to protect others. Although I myself am not at risk, I know that many of my peers have family members or friends who could face more serious symptoms, and I wear my mask to protect them as well as my own family. It would break my heart to know that someone passed away because of me.