This school year isn’t going to be normal. That’s just a fact.

Everything is different — from housing to classes to Greek recruitment. A lot of this is out of your control, but there are some things you have control over: whether or not you wear a mask and how you respond to policies that mandate mask wearing.

If you’re on social media, it’s hard to miss videos of people throwing groceries out of their shopping cart or berating Starbucks baristas because they’re being told they have to wear a mask. At my job at an ice cream shop, I’ve even had a couple of those interactions myself. 

I know it can be uncomfortable to wear a mask. 

But for your sake, and the sake of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln community, you need to wear a mask whenever you’re in public.

For starters, it reduces the risk of transmitting the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control explains on its website that the virus is mainly transmitted through droplets that can come from coughing, sneezing or just talking to another person. The CDC states that the best way to prevent further spread of the virus is to wear a cloth face covering whenever you are in public and unable to maintain social distancing. 

A lot of people, especially college students, aren’t too worried about getting the virus. But here’s the thing: wearing a mask isn’t for you. It doesn’t give you very much protection from the virus. The only proven way to prevent yourself from getting sick is to stay at home or stay at least 6 feet away from people at all times. 

Wearing a mask, however, has been proven to reduce transmission from the person wearing the mask to others in recent students from The New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and more. Masks keep in the droplets that typically move freely about the air when you’re not wearing one, meaning other people are a lot less likely to be infected by you.

Even if you are completely asymptomatic and don’t think you’ve been near anyone who has the virus, you still need to wear a mask. The only way to be sure you don’t have the virus is to be tested, but even then, you could run into someone who has the virus immediately after leaving the testing center, become infected and, by not wearing a mask, spread it to others.

Wearing a mask really isn’t that difficult. Before I started working again in June, I didn’t leave my house for two whole months except for walks around my neighborhood. When I went on those walks, I brought a mask, but I only wore it when there were other people around because I hated feeling my breath on my face so much. 

When I went back to work, I was uneasy about wearing a mask for five hours at a time. But the truth is, after the first 20 minutes, I didn’t notice the mask. Now when I go into work, I hardly notice the mask at all. It’s like learning to put contacts in, or getting used to braces — it’s annoying, and it would be nice if you didn’t have to, but after you get used to it, it’s not that bad, and it’s for the best in the long run.

I know some people have health conditions that prevent them from wearing masks, and of course, I don’t think we should shame those people. It’s always best to assume that if someone isn’t wearing a mask, it’s for a good reason (while maintaining at least 6 feet of separation). But you know yourself, and you know your friends. If you can, you should wear a mask, especially for people who are immunosuppressed or otherwise at risk.

You may not realize it, but you have a huge amount of social power with these masks. If your friend isn’t wearing a mask and you let them know you’d be more comfortable going out in public with them if they had a mask, they might start to think twice about their choices. 

If you’re in public and there’s not many people wearing a mask, don’t take it off. There’s no reason to feel self-conscious. Keep it on. You’re protecting others, and your mask wearing may send a message that if you’re willing to go out of your way to protect them, they should do the same.

Or, maybe people will continue to not wear masks. In that case, it’s best to stay very far away from them.

The university is providing all students who move into the dorms with Husker-themed face masks. What says school spirit more than Husker logo masks that will prevent you from spreading a dangerous respiratory disease? 

If that’s not your jam, there’s also tons of online stores selling personalized masks. Or you could order some plain black ones from Amazon to make sure the mask doesn’t distract from your outfit.

Wearing masks doesn’t have to be a chore. It doesn’t have to be a mandate. It can be something more fun, like a tradition, a fashion statement or an act of solidarity.

The only person who can physically force you to wear a mask is you. If you’re able to look at the facts and see that wearing a mask is selfless, responsible and, after the initial adjustment period, relatively easy, you’re going to have a safe and healthy semester.