U.S. universities reinstate mask mandates

Masked to guard towards the coronavirus illness (COVID-19), senior Lauren Pyjar takes benefit of the nice and cozy sunshine to review open air at Georgetown College in Washington, March 9, 2021.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

At the least a dozen schools and universities throughout the U.S. restored their indoor masks mandates this month after Covid instances rose on their campuses. 

Columbia College, Johns Hopkins College and Georgetown College, amongst others, introduced they’ll once more require face coverings in lecture rooms or sure indoor areas. Some colleges cited the specter of the extra contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant, now the dominant pressure of the virus within the U.S.

Their strikes come as BA.2 fuels an increase in instances nationwide and a divide on whether or not to once more mandate masks to blunt its unfold. Policymakers have thought of the politically divisive query of whether or not to require face coverings simply weeks after many cities loosened their public well being restrictions, providing Individuals a way of normalcy unseen because the pandemic hit greater than two years in the past.

“The nationwide debate over masks mandates is definitely reflective of each pandemic fatigue and the deep political divides we’ve by way of the general public well being coverage associated to Covid,” mentioned Neil Maniar, director of Northeastern College’s Grasp of Public Well being in City Well being Program. 

“It’s unimaginable to disentangle the political side from the general public well being and science-based realities of how we will reply to this pandemic,” he mentioned.

The shift away from pandemic-era guidelines — and issues about whether or not the strikes had been untimely amid rising instances — continued final week after a federal decide struck down a federal masks mandate for planes and different public transit. The Biden administration plans to attraction the choice.

Philadelphia additionally lifted its indoor masks mandate Friday, simply days after changing into the primary main U.S. metropolis to reinstate it. Public well being officers mentioned the reversal adopted a current decline in Covid instances and hospitalizations within the metropolis. 

The typical variety of new instances fell to 242 per day as of Thursday, in contrast with a peak of 377 on April 14. Hospitalizations additionally fell to 65 on Thursday, down from 82 on April 17, in line with a metropolis press launch. 

Six colleges in Philadelphia responded to the town’s reversal, loosening their harder masks guidelines that had been reintroduced earlier within the week according to the town’s mandate. They embody Thomas Jefferson, Drexel, Temple, La Salle, and St. Joseph’s College. 

The College of Pennsylvania additionally lifted its masks requirement for indoor public areas on campus, however nonetheless requires masks in lecture rooms, on campus transit and in well being care settings. 

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Maniar mentioned choices about masks characterize a shift in direction of extra native, individualized decision-making when responding to the pandemic. 

“We’re going from this one measurement matches all strategy to way more localized, way more tailor-made approaches that actually reply to what the what the extent of Covid is in a sure group, group or college,” Maniar mentioned. 

“Relying on what is occurring in a sure space, reinstating a masks requirement could or is probably not warranted so long as it is performed in a manner that’s responding to the information that’s evident on the native degree,” he added.

New York state

Past Philadelphia, modifications in Covid infections have compelled colleges to rethink their masks insurance policies. Three colleges in New York state reinstated their indoor masks mandates. 

The College of Rochester announced earlier this month that it would temporarily puts its indoor mask mandate back in place on all of its campuses and properties. The university said it was responding to a spike in Covid cases that are “straining the capacity” of quarantine and isolation spaces on its campuses. 

“The trending high numbers of positive student COVID cases at the University in recent days make it in everyone’s best interest to take the step of re-masking indoors right now,” the university said in a statement. 

In New York City, Columbia University said earlier this month that students would be required to wear non-cloth masks in classrooms for the rest of the spring semester. Columbia cited an uptick in NYC case counts and the university’s test positivity rate. 

Barnard College, a women’s college affiliated with Columbia, also reimposed its mask mandate for certain indoor spaces on April 6 due to a spike in cases since it lifted the rule on March 28. 

The decisions come as cases rise in the largest U.S. city. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in NYC was 2,348 on April 18, up from 2,027 a week earlier, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases in the city have since dropped to a seven-day average of 1,565, the data shows.

In New York state, excluding New York City, the overall the seven-day rolling average was 4,029 on April 24, up from 3,631 on April 18 and 2,899 a week earlier, CDC data said. The state’s seven-day test positivity rate also jumped from 3.65% to 8.97% from April 1 to April 22. 

New York state and NYC have not reinstated indoor mask mandates after they lifted them several weeks ago. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still requires masks on subways and buses in NYC, despite the Florida judge’s decision to strike down the federal mask mandate on transportation this week. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a Twitter publish that the transit masks requirement would stay in place in accordance with steerage from the state well being division.

Washington D.C. 

In Washington D.C., Howard College is the newest college to reintroduce mask requirements. Students will have to wear face coverings for all indoor settings and outdoor group settings through the end of its spring semester. The university also went a step further than other schools, announcing it would hold certain undergraduate courses online during the last days of classes and conduct final exams virtually. 

George Washington University also announced earlier this month that it would require masks for all campus facilities last week. The school noted that the mandate would extend through the rest of its spring semester, exam period and commencement. 

American University also reinstated its indoor mask mandate for all campus buildings and Georgetown announced it would require masks indoors on two of its campuses. Both universities said the mandate would not apply to individuals in private offices or personal residences, or to people actively eating or drinking. 

All four universities in D.C. cited high transmission in the region and significant case increases on their campuses, which are partially driven by BA.2. 

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Washington D.C. was 119 on April 18, down from 293 a week earlier, according to CDC data. The district’s seven-day test positivity rate, however, rose from 1.8% to 5.45% from April 1 to 17. The percentage of positive cases has since dropped to 3.89% as of April 22. 

Washington D.C. ended its indoor mask mandate in late February and has not reinstated it since. D.C.’s Metro made masks optional on its buses, railways and shared-ride transit service after the Florida decide’s ruling. 

The return of masks mandates at universities goes past main cities akin to New York and Washington. Faculties that reintroduced indoor face masking necessities embody the College of Connecticut, Bowdoin College, Rice College and Williams Faculty. JHU additionally mentioned on April 6 it might require masks in lecture rooms, frequent areas of residence halls and eating amenities, besides when actively consuming or ingesting. 

Maniar mentioned different universities and native jurisdictions may reinstate their masks mandates sooner or later, including that they need to base their choices on Covid indicators of their communities. 

“It is definitely attainable to convey again masks the place we’re seeing an increase within the variety of instances, a corresponding improve in hospitalizations, and a corresponding improve within the % positivity,” he mentioned. 

Maniar added: “We simply need to keep away from a scenario the place we’re overburdening the healthcare system in a sure group or space. So if we begin to see an increase in these indicators, then I can see that triggering a reinstatement of masks necessities in some settings and positively in college settings.” 

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