On Aug. 9, UR reinstated the indoor mask requirement for all University campuses in a message from the President’s Office, citing the surge of the COVID-19 Delta variant cases in Monroe County. This new mandate came into effect Aug. 10.
“As we prepare for the beginning of a new academic year and continue the return of many employees to on-campus work spaces, [UR] is reinstating a face-masking requirement for everyone indoors on the University’s campuses and properties, regardless of vaccination status,” the UR administration wrote in an email sent to all students. “For the sake of the health of the entire University community — especially at a time when students, faculty, and staff will return in greater numbers — the best decision is to require everyone to wear a face mask indoors on campus, until further notice.”
This mandate differs from the University’s previous COVID-19 policies as it allows for fully vaccinated students and staff to unmask when “alone and not in a public or shared space.” Students in shared spaces, such as the Rush Rhees Library, classrooms, dining halls, or conference rooms will be required to mask up regardless of vaccination status.
Students will only be allowed to unmask indoors within their on-campus living spaces with roommates or members of their “family unit” as defined in the FAQ page. Though they are not required to wear a mask outdoors, individuals who aren’t fully vaccinated are encouraged to mask up when physical distancing is not possible.
For instructors, however, those who are vaccinated are permitted to lecture unmasked while maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others. UR will provide disposable face masks at multiple locations, such as Common Connections in Wilson Commons, for those without reusable cloth masks.
Students on campus are divided over this policy. Some believe that with 90% of the student body vaccinated, the mask mandate is not necessary and will become a barrier for social interaction between students.
“They put in the minds of students that they should be afraid of the people around them, because why would we require masks if the people around us are safe?” junior James Harrod said. “This causes us to be further from our friends: fewer hugs, fewer close conversations, less human connection. This causes students who may be looking for someone to sit with at the dining hall to instead sit alone out of fear. This causes students not to join a club or other student group when that may be the thing they most need. These are real costs that impact the health of our student body. The University has done a great job keeping us safe so far and it is now the time to enjoy the results of that hard work together.”
Senators of the Student Association also feel that the University should have corresponded with them before announcing and implementing this decision.
“I think the University never acts spontaneously, especially when it comes to life threatening situations,” junior Boris Sorokin said. “The admins always do a lot of research before changing the policies like this one. At the same time I’d also say that the decision was made unilaterally without asking students about what they think. Usually admins always keep [in close] contact with students when it comes to drafting new rules. This time, however, there was no consultation with the student body which I think was an unfair move.”
Many other students who spoke with the Campus Times were supportive of the updated mask mandate.
“I’m an EMT, so I have seen the worst of it. And I did have the Delta variant earlier this year while vaccinated, it was horrible”, first-year Vic Cohen told CT. “If wearing a mask means others do not have to go through that, I am more than willing to. It’s a care for your community kinda thing.”
Many first year students emphasised that masks helped them to feel safer after spending the majority of their senior year of high school online.
“It makes me feel safer going to classes and being on campus, I haven’t been around this many people in so long”, First-year James Norris told CT “It’s nice and reassuring to see everyone wearing a mask and if it helps prevent coronavirus and helps prevent people from going through that horrible experience, I’m all for it.”
Since July 30, the University has repeatedly made clear that vaccinations will be mandatory for students this fall. Students were required to upload either vaccination proof or proof of exemption to University Health Services by Aug. 1. Students who didn’t upload either by Aug. 16 were allegedly not allowed to move on campus and had their classes removed from their schedules, as was the punishment warned of in prior University communications. Though UR faculty and staff are not required to be vaccinated, they are still required to follow other University COVID-19 guidelines.
The masking mandate complies with the recently updated guidance from New York State, Monroe County, and CDC, all of which encourage every individual to wear a mask in public indoor spaces. The CDC recommends that even the fully vaccinated should wear masks indoors in areas of “substantial or high transmission.”
Monroe County reported 723 new cases of COVID-19 between Aug. 2 and 9, placing it within the CDC’s “substantial” transmission range. Monroe’s case count, positivity rate, and COVID-19 hospital admissions rates have all increased over the past week according to both the CDC and county data.
UR is one of the last colleges in Rochester to issue a mask mandate. The Rochester Institute of Technology announced a stricter mandate on Aug. 5 that requires masks both indoors universally, and outdoors in “crowded outdoor settings,” regardless of vaccination status. St. John Fisher College, Nazareth College, Roberts Wesleyan College, and SUNY Brockport all have already issued mandates similar to UR’s.
For further information and real-time updates please visit https://www.rochester.edu/coronavirus-update/