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College lifts mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions

This week, the College announced updated COVID-19 regulations and the removal of several precautionary measures.

On Feb. 11, Dean Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94 announced the first wave of changes via email.

“With a vaccinated and boosted campus community and relatively low rates of infections currently, we are able to adjust our health and safety protocols this week,” Burrell-McRae wrote.

Her email announced the removal of all mask mandates, with exceptions carved out for classroom and laboratory settings, the Lunder House, the Museum of Art, Greene Block + Studios, and for spectators at indoor athletics events.

The email also stated that “primary entrance doors to all academic and administrative buildings will be unlocked during normal business hours, … [and] the limit on group size for informal activities has been increased to 50 persons.”

COVID-19 testing will now occur twice weekly, and tests are no longer being conducted on Saturdays.

A second email, sent by Burrell-McRae on Feb. 18, announced further rollbacks. Beginning Monday, Feb. 21, classroom mask requirements will be determined by individual professors and departments.

Burrell-McRae also wrote that “the limit on group size for informal activities has been eliminated … [and] immediate family members of students, faculty, and staff may visit campus, including academic, administrative, and residential spaces.”

The reception to these changes was immediately apparent across campus, with a large percentage of the student body choosing to go maskless when allowed. Even so, the updates have been met with mixed emotions.

“I’m stressed out,” one anonymous student said. “I was on campus for JanPlan, and there were like 200 cases. It was really, really bad. The JanPlan experience was really rough, being totally locked down, and then this semester they were like ‘no masks!’ It felt really sudden.”

Students who were excited by the changes feel that campus is finally beginning to regain a sense of normalcy.

“I like the new mandates,” Constantin Fleury ’23 said. “I especially like that professors are able to choose whether or not to enforce masks.”

“I love it,” Jeb Wennrich ’23 agreed. “I am so thrilled that we don’t have to wear masks in dining halls.”

Mary Bevilacqua ’23 also echoed their excitement but recognized the student body’s mixed reaction.

“It’s interesting to watch how people are taking it and see the mix of people wearing masks and not, and in what places they are wearing them,” she said.

Some students were surprised by the dining hall and classroom changes in particular.

“I was here for the summer doing research with professors,” Lacey Wright `22 explained. “It was basically a world of no masks. The dining hall, however, was the only place that actually required masks.”

Now, Wright feels that the dining halls seem like one of the only places on campus that are consistently maskless.

“It was very disorienting when it first started,” she said. “Because I would be wearing a mask all over campus, but now that we’re in the dining hall, we weren’t wearing masks, and it was just like, whoa, this is very surprising.”

Wright also felt that the new classroom mandates were unexpected, and that she “didn’t think that was going to be on the radar for a long time.”

Though some teachers have lifted classroom mask mandates, most have decided to continue enforcing masks in class. Wright said that some of her teachers have elementary-aged children, and she suspects they will keep mask class mandates in place for their sake.

Some departments have also instituted their own COVID-19 regulations.

The Anthropology department, for example, issued a statement saying that they “will continue the departmental policy that students and professors mask in all Anthropology classes and at Anthropology events.”

“I think that it’s cool that it’s been kind of a slow adjustment for people,” Wright said. “I feel like I want a slow adjustment. I’ve been seeing pockets of people who are still wearing masks, and so it’s nice that everyone’s making the decision for themselves. I hope that continues.”

Burrell-McRae also expressed such sentiments at the conclusion of both emails.

“Many people may feel safer if they continue to mask to protect themselves and others, and we encourage everyone to make the decision that is right for them,” she wrote. “We hope that everyone will honor and respect the choices of those who are continuing to mask and comply respectfully with requests to wear masks at events, meetings, and in other contexts.”

The College will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and make additional changes if and when they become necessary.

~ Elsa Russell ’22

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