While colleges and universities lifted many COVID restrictions, college mask mandates are making a comeback.
We are three years into the pandemic. Over the last few months, outlooks have been hopeful. Reported COVID cases began declining in late February, and state and local mask mandates waned. A return to normalcy might not be that far off, but then again, reports of new and possibly more threatening variants are emerging. In an effort to ward off a new round of infections suggested to be hitting the United States soon, some colleges and universities are reinstating college mask mandates, citing an uptick of outbreaks on campus.
The New York Times reported on April 11th that colleges across the nation are reinstating college mask mandates. The change is a direct effort to ward off more cases of a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant. Known by scientists as BA.2, the subvariant has now become the most dominant version reported in new COVID cases, which are yet again increasing. Yahoo reported earlier today that the new variant makes up 85% of all cases in the United States and that it’s much more transmissible than other strains seen lately.
According to a New York Times database, there were more than 31,000 new cases reported across the country last week, which was about a 3 percent increase from what was seen over the last two weeks. The East Coast has seen its fair share of new cases of the subvarient, with New York City and Washing, D.C. seeing the sharpest increases. However, it should be noted that even with the upticks seen this past week, its still nowhere near as high as the numbers were during peak COVID outbreaks in the United States that drove college mask mandates, along with other places.
With the rise in cases comes the return of college mask mandates for many schools. Yesterday, the American University announced that would start requiring masks in all campus buildings beginning the next day. However, it noted that professors would be able to take off their masks during lectures. Columbia University said on Sunday not only the mandates were coming back, but also that students were now required to wear non-cloth masks for the remainder of the semester. Last week, Georgetown University communicated that masks were required until “further notice” due to a campus COVID outbreak. Johns Hopkins University similarly imposed indoor mask regulations last week, along with twice-weekly testing of students. They also cited an uptick in cases as the cause. Lastly, Rice University reinstated there mask policy inside campus classrooms regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.
After spending the last few years debating over mask regulations, many universities abandoned college mask mandates in favor of other efforts to ward off COVID outbreaks. Some schools enacted policies that promoted living with the virus, like quarantining in classrooms instead of being sent home. Similarly, many places lifted mask mandates for those who were vaccinated.
Reinstating college mask mandates is sure to upset many students and parents. At its core, the science perpetually changes, and while that’s okay, it is just another example of what many feel is overstepping the government’s authority over Americans. More and more students, teachers, and parents want the choice of whether or not to mask up, regardless of increases in documented COVID cases.