Effective March 4, the University of Connecticut Storrs campus shifted from the orange to the yellow COVID-19 risk designation. The most prominent difference between the two is that masks are now “recommended” indoors instead of required. As weekly columnist Sam Zelin articulated in a Nov. 29 column, there isn’t much of an actual difference between having masks designated as recommended and not requiring them at all, because as long as there is no mandate, that’s what the general public will listen to. Because of this, the dropping of the Storrs campus’ mask mandate is a big deal. It signals the first time masks will not be required indoors since exactly two years ago this week, when students were first sent home due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, while this is a big step that should be celebrated if it signals a light at the end of the tunnel, it does seem a bit premature, especially with spring break right around the corner.
If there was ever going to be a time to move out of orange, it would have been after spring break. At a time when students are leaving campus in droves to return home, it would have been smart to keep regulations more strict, so that COVID-19 spreading to students’ families and friends would be kept to a minimum. On the flip side, as it now stands students will be returning to campus in yellow as well. Based on how cases have spiked on campus after breaks previous to this one, when there were more heightened COVID-19 alert levels than yellow, it’s hard to not expect a less regulated return would cause less of a spike.
The more general reason why moving to yellow may have been a bit reckless is that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Throughout the past year, it seems as if the country as a whole has been playing a giant game of chicken with the virus and its many variants, where every time it begins to recede we lessen our protocols, and sure enough, a new variant comes roaring back. In order to stop this vicious cycle, it might be wise to simply give the current variant some more time to dissipate instead of being as quick to drop mandates as possible, as hastiness could lead to a new variant gaining traction.
While having a mask mandate is not the ideal scenario, it must be recognized that masking is not the end of the world. Wearing a mask is very easy to do, and if continuing to have masks for a longer period of time, a very slight inconvenience, leads to people being more safe, it should be a no-brainer.
We’re going to end this editorial with two separate calls to action: One for the staff in charge of deciding COVID-19 protocols at UConn and one for everyone in the community.
For those with the decision-making power, please consider returning us to orange for at least two weeks following spring break. We don’t need another spike caused by people coming back to campus with COVID-19, and if masks aren’t required indoors, it will be very hard to avoid contact. For the community, let’s heed the words of UConn Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty when she said “the choice is yours.” Please, choose to hold the health of your peers here at UConn in high regard and continue to wear a mask.