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Mon May 2 02:54:41 PDT 2022
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Mask Mandates Make Comeback To US College Campuses
Two months after the federal government eased mask recommendations for
most Americans, some colleges and universities have reinstated mask
mandates, along with other measures, citing surges in COVID-19 cases
on their campuses.
Columbia University in New York City on May 10, 2021. (Samira
Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Several prominent institutions—including American University and
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; Columbia University in New
York; Johns Hopkins University in Maryland; and Rice University in
Texas, to name a few—have brought back indoor mask requirements that
were phased out not too long ago.
Many of these schools already have vaccine and booster mandates. For
example, Columbia required all students and employees to submit proof
of their booster vaccination before March, boasting an overall 99.9
percent compliance rate for the campus community. Yet it now demands
that students wear surgical masks in classrooms because of an uptick
of COVID-19 cases on campus and elsewhere in New York City.
“Based on the current situation and in an abundance of caution, we
will require wearing of non-cloth masks in classrooms,” the Ivy League
school announced on April 10. In a more recent update, the university
said the requirement wouldn’t go away any time soon, despite an
overwhelmingly high level of vaccination among the campus population.
“We anticipate making no changes in our current campus COVID-19
guidance, unless New York City puts in place measures that we would be
required to follow,” Columbia officials said on April 22, noting a
“gradual increase in COVID-19 cases” in the city.
Rice also requires all eligible students and employees to get booster
shots. In mid-March, the Houston-based university lifted its mask
mandate for vaccinated individuals, only to reverse the policy after
less than a month because of a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases.
“There’s been a significant rise in the number of positive cases
reported in our community—about 145,” the university said in an April
10 statement. Specifically, Rice demanded that everyone in a classroom
wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status, except for
instructors while lecturing, since 90 percent of those new cases have
occurred among undergraduate students. Large events also have been
canceled. Students can continue to eat in dining halls, but at half of
the designated capacity.
According to a COVID-19 tracker on Rice’s website, the university has
recorded 31 positive tests for the week following Easter. There’s also
been a noticeable downward trajectory since April 10, but the
restrictions remain in place.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, health officials and the mayor raised the
city’s COVID-19 alert level on April 18, requiring citizens to wear
face coverings when out in public. That has prompted a number of
schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple, St.
Joseph’s, La Salle, Drexel, and Thomas Jefferson universities, to
require students and staff to mask up while in school buildings.
All of these Philadelphia schools went mask-optional again just three
days later, when the city announced that it not only has reversed the
decision to reimpose the mask mandate, but also ditched the COVID-19
alert system that triggered it.
“The infection rate is going down, hospitalizations are going down,
and, frankly, the ruling in Florida confused a lot of stuff. SEPTA is
doing what they did and confused a lot of stuff,” said Philadelphia
Mayor Jim Kenney.
Kenney was referring to a U.S. district judge in Florida who struck
down a federal rule requiring face coverings for planes and other
forms of public transportation, as well as the decision by SEPTA,
Pennsylvania’s regional transit authority, to lift the requirement
that travelers must wear masks on its buses and trains.
Florida’s universities were among the earliest in the nation to drop
their mask mandates. South Florida University has been mask-optional
since August 2021, while the University of Florida said it simply
doesn’t have the authority to force people to mask up on campus.
“The university does not currently have the authority to take the
actions you recommend,” University of Florida President Kent Fuchs
wrote in response to the Alachua County Commission, which had asked
the school to adhere to a public health emergency declaration that
mandated masks indoors.
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