Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Number Of Universities Reinstating Mask Mandates Grew Again This Week

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The University of Rochester was one of the increasing number of universities that reinstated their … [+] mask mandates this week, as the incidence of coronavirus surges again.

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The number of colleges and universities reinstating campus mask mandates continued to grow this week, as college administrators have been forced once again to contend with surges in the number of Covid-19 cases at their schools.

Following last week’s announcements by several prominent universities – including American University, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Columbia, and Rice – that they were reimposing masking requirements along with other mitigation measures, more institutions, concentrated in the eastern U.S., joined them in the past few days.

Included in the list are a number of schools in Philadelphia that are bringing back masking requirements after the city raised its Covid-19 response level on April 11 to a level 2, meaning that people in Philadelphia would be required to wear masks indoors in public places starting Monday, April 18.

Within a day or two, area universities began to inform their constituents that mask requirements would be resumed:

At the University of Pennsylvania, the campus was told that as of April 18, it would “again require all members of and visitors to the Penn community to wear masks while indoors in public or shared spaces, and we strongly encourage masking now in all campus buildings, ahead of the city’s mandate.”
Similar notices were given by Temple, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, Drexel and Thomas Jefferson University. Presumably, all of Philadelphia’s colleges will comply with the city’s order.

But mandatory re-masking was not confined to Philadelphia’s institutions. The University of Rochester announced on Friday that because of a new spike in infections, “and in order to get everyone over the finish line of the spring semester, the University has decided, effective immediately, to reinstate for the time being the indoor face-masking requirement on the University campuses and properties.” The requirement applies to all students, faculty, staff, visitors, and others—including those who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Citing a “substantial rise in Covid-19 positivity rates,” the University of Connecticut reinstated its masking requirement for all indoor instructional settings, workspaces, and indoor events exceeding 100 individuals, effective Monday April 18. The mandate will remain in place though the end of the semester and final exams.

Just a week after relaxing its mask mandate, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine put it back in place on Tuesday, April 12, noting “an increase in new positive cases of Covid-19, with over sixty-two (62) student cases reported from antigen and PCR testing over the last two days.”

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose also pointed to “poor student compliance with mandatory testing” for returning to the mandate, promising that “once case numbers fall and test compliance increases, we will be able to relax our mask mandate and social gathering restrictions.”

George Washington University also brought back its mandate last Monday just a week after lifting it. The resumed requirement, which was occasioned by a near doubling of the university’s seven-day positivity rate, will remain in place through commencement.

Howard University in Washington, D.C. went even further. Citing an increase in positivity rates from 2 to 5% in the last week, it imposed several mitigation measures on Thursday, April 14, including:

Holding undergraduate didactic courses online during the final days of classes (April 14–22, 2022), and also conducting final examinations online.
Partnering with student leaders to assure that any indoor social events maintain required use of masks throughout the duration of the event and include proof of Covid-19 vaccination. Capacity at indoor social events will also be limited.
Requiring that masks are worn in all indoor settings, as well as outdoors in group settings, through the end of the Spring 2022 semester.

The new outbreaks, reported in several cities and at higher eduction institutions across the country, appear to be caused by a convergence of factors: relaxing of masking requirements that occurred at many colleges earlier in the spring semester, resumption of more social activities and large gatherings on campus, heightened risks of infection during spring break travels, and the unusually high transmissibility of the BA.2 and BA.2.12 subvariants of the Omicron strain.

In a relatively short period of time, BA.2 has caused a new surge of cases in Europe, and it’s become the dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States. In the last 14 days, the number of new cases has increased by 32%, after having fallen dramatically in prior weeks.

Despite the new spate of campus mandates, as the spring semester enters its home stretch, most colleges and universities still appear resolved to try to make it to the finish line without having to tell their students to once again tighten their masks. More than ever, the decision appears to be influenced by local conditions, with many cities and regions of the country experiencing considerable variation in the incidence of Covid-19 cases.

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