AMS ‘passively enforces’ mask-wearing in Nest. Is that strategy working?

The two-week grace period since the AMS mandated masks in the Nest has come and gone. Now, every student in the Nest should be wearing a mask, but some students have raised concerns that the AMS policy does not go far enough to discourage non-compliance.

On its Instagram story and throughout the Nest, the AMS has advertised that students “may be asked to leave the building” if they don’t wear masks, but AMS President Cole Evans could not confirm if this penalty has actually been levied against anyone.

Mask-wearing has been strongly recommended by health experts and is widely believed to be effective at curbing the spread of COVID-19. While initially not mandating masks, UBC reversed its position by requiring students to wear masks in all campus buildings in September, shortly after the AMS policy was introduced.

Among the concerned is second-year Judy Gao, who visits the Nest around three times a week. She told The Ubyssey that in her experience, around 40 per cent of people wear masks at any given time, and even those who enter the building fully masked up often remove them once they sit down.

AMS Councillor Ryan Wong corroborated this story, admitting that although the large majority of students are complying with the policy, he has observed instances of the same few students repeatedly not following the rule.

“I think it would be best if we were a little more strict with this policy and with the enforcement. But security comes with costs, and there are issues with capacity … having them be present and having sufficient numbers to roam,” Wong said.

The concerns of capacity echo the same problems cited by Evans at an AMS Council meeting last month, days after the policy was formalized.

At the same meeting, Evans said the AMS is focused on “passive enforcement,” claiming that he didn’t want to police people and hoped the honour-based system, in conjunction with peer pressure, would be sufficient at ensuring compliance.

Evans reiterated to The Ubyssey that because the AMS does not have its own security, having regular patrolling in the Nest — a very large building — would be difficult. He also still believes that passive enforcement is the right approach, even if it’s not perfect.

“We don’t expect to get 100 per cent compliance, but we have seen gradually more and more students wearing a mask in the Nest,” Evans said.

He also said that the AMS is exploring options to provide free masks in the building in order to make sure that certain socioeconomic conditions do not prevent people from complying with the rule.

While some students have vocally expressed their disapproval of the lax regulation, others have been more indifferent. First-year Maja Grandinetti is one of many who falls into the latter.

“Not wearing a mask in a shared space on campus is nonsensical, but because of social distancing protocols taken by UBC, others’ lack of masks does not make me feel at risk,” Grandinetti said.

Evans said the policy is unlikely to be amended in the near future.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure students who want to use the Nest can do so safely,” Evans said. “To students who have concerns about it, we just need to remember that the onus is on individuals during this pandemic to work together and slow the spread.”