As of Monday, April 4, 2022 masks are no longer required in classrooms at the University of Connecticut. In justifying this decision to change masking policy from masks being required to recommended in classrooms and other campus spaces, the university’s administration cited “very low positivity rates” both on campus and in the state of Connecticut. Moreover, the policy change also indicates that while faculty and staff may ask those in their classrooms or offices to wear a mask, this is “only a request.” But, despite masks not being required anymore, members of the UConn community are merely encouraged to remain flexible and courteous with regards to masking. This led to an uptick in overall COVID-19 cases on campus.
Leaving masking up to the individual rather than maintaining health and safety guidelines through the end of the semester is a dangerous decision on the part of UConn’s administration. As The Editorial Board explained in an editorial published March 11, 2022, switching to yellow right before spring break was risky enough, even with still requiring masks in classrooms. Going further than this and dropping all mask mandates – other than on public transportation such as buses and in some healthcare settings – puts people at risk.
First of all, it is overly optimistic to assume that COVID-19 will eventually become entirely eliminated or eradicated. Because the virus has been found in animals, there is almost always a chance that (if we were to get the current pandemic under control) it could make its way back to humans. Furthermore, the idea of COVID-19 becoming endemic requires the disease to be predictable, where it may still be present in the population but at a steady state without large outbreaks. However, continually developing variants are preventing us from being able to predict what happens next with COVID-19 – thus, keeping us out of the endemic stage for a while. Even if we were to get there, precautions like vaccination, boosters and masking all still work to keep infection rates low. There is no medical consensus that COVID-19 will become endemic, much less when that could be.
Additionally, COVID-19 being endemic – which, we stress, is not yet the case – does not mean that COVID-19 is harmless. Yes, most people with COVID-19 won’t become seriously ill, but “long COVID” is still an understudied possibility we all need to remember. This range of new or returning health problems including extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain, brain fog, changes to taste and smell and joint pain are ongoing for some COVID-19 patients, long after infection.
Also, the best way to prevent a more dangerous variant is to stop the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible, something masking – along with vaccinations and boosters – is crucial to do.
Thus, the decision to not require masks in classrooms anymore leaves the entire UConn community at risk, especially those that are immunosuppressed. It’s not safe for those individuals to rely on their peers to protect them without the policy.
Masking needs to be a collective effort. It does not matter if it is just one or two people in a large lecture hall not wearing a mask, because that is enough to allow others to get sick. And, people getting sick when it is almost entirely preventable by the simple task of wearing masks is ridiculous.
Moreover, leaving the decision to mask up to the individual is a way for the university to act as if they are prioritizing the health and safety of their students, when they are actually doing nothing to protect us. For example, at SUBOG’s recent UCONNIC concert, an email sent the day before claimed that masks would now be required at the event, and that “Students without masks [would] not be allowed to enter Gampel Pavilion.” However, this was not the case in practice. While masks were available at the door, the mask requirement was not enforced at all, as photos from the event prove. Similarly, Asian Nite organizers claimed they would check vaccination status and require masks, neither of which actually occurred. Thus, there are multiple examples of the university issuing blanket policies to say they are interested in the health and well-being of students without actually protecting us.
We should not rush into pretending that the pandemic never happened, abandoning all health and safety guidelines for a mere glimpse of precedented times. Especially considering that there are only four weeks left in the semester, there should be no hurry here. It would not have been too much to ask of the UConn community to stick with it through the rest of the academic year, and reevaluate policy in the fall. Thus, please value the health of your surrounding community and continue to wear a mask.