On March 3, the University of Delaware announced that they would be lifting the mask mandate in all non-classroom buildings.
According to the University, the daily new positive cases have dropped to under 10 per day, including both students and employees. Furthermore, 95 percent of students and 94 percent of employees are fully vaccinated. As a result, the face covering requirement has shifted gears.
The new guidelines state that face masks are no longer required indoors in non-classroom spaces on campus, including research labs, offices and athletic event or student experience spaces. However, face masks remain required in all classroom settings, child-care facilities and while using UD-sponsored transportation.
“Attending in-person classes is a requirement for academic programs,” says UD’s Student Health Interim Medical Director Dr. Kelly Frick. “The emphasis [on masks] is not on the capacity of a space, rather the purpose of the individuals who are gathered there. Students have a choice to go to the Little Bob, eat inside the dining halls, attend large social events, etc. Each student can determine their own risk tolerance for these non-academic aspects of campus life.”
Following the example of other colleges across the country, UD put precautions in place before lifting the mask mandate, including requiring students and staff to be fully vaccinated and strongly encouraging immunization against the virus. Additionally, the school requires the daily health check limiting access to those without a green check mark.
The CDC recommends community use of masks to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets by the wearer. With the hospitalizations declining across the nation, the CDC is being more lenient with the mandate for masks in lower transmission states. The declining concern has sparked this change in mandates across the country.
Most students are more than happy to accept the new relaxed rules around masking.
“I thought it was time,” says sophomore nursing major Greer Duncan. “It seems like it wasn’t abnormal since other colleges were [doing the same] and the state lifted the mask mandate, as well.”
However, some UD faculty—including adjunct professor Rita Crowley—think a stricter policy around mask wearing should be implemented.
“The very same people are in a classroom setting with a mask minutes earlier or later than those in a non-classroom building not masked,” says Crowley. “So if one set of them has Covid, it is still going to spread because of the inconsistencies. My vote is for consistency.”
Another concern with the new mandate being lifted was that some would feel uncomfortable with the change. Nutrition professor Irene Soucy says that mental health factors into the pandemic and mask wearing, and it should ultimately be up to the students to decide how to proceed.
“Although we are all mostly vaccinated, if students feel more comfortable and secure wearing a mask, obviously it’s always going to be optional,” says Soucy. “I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against because they choose to wear a mask. I think every individual can make their own choice and do what is safe for them.”
So, what’s in store for the future? Will masks ever be gone for good?
The future of Covid is always changing and presents a huge question mark for all. There is always the fear of variants, including recent new cases in Europe, that could signal the need to bring back masks full-time. The University is in constant reevaluation every day and will continue to evolve as the state of the pandemic changes. All we can do is follow the rules and stay safe and healthy.