A Letter to the Chancellor: Campus Response to Changes in the Mask Mandate Advisory

(umassd.edu)

Staff Writer: Roxanne Hepburn

Email: rhepburn@umassd.edu

Dear Chancellor Mark A. Fuller,

On February 18th, 2022, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth released a blast email on behalf of the Chancellor, titled “Mask Advisory Update,” which announced the sudden lift of the campus-wide mask mandate on February 28th, 2022.

In response, I released a survey to UmassD students and faculty to understand the opinions of the campus population on this matter which received a total of 171 entries.

The first question on the survey asked, “How comfortable are you with being on campus without a mask mandate?” Responders were asked to rate their comfortability on a scale of one to five, where one is very comfortable and five is very uncomfortable. 

  • 28.1% of responders were very comfortable;
  • 8.8% of responders were comfortable;
  • 17.5% of responders were neutral;
  • 21.6% of responders were uncomfortable;
  • and 24% of responders were very uncomfortable.

This means most responders feel uncomfortable with the change to the mask advisory.

Forms response chart. Question title: How comfortable are you with being on campus without a mask mandate?. Number of responses: 171 responses.

Next, the survey asked, “Will you continue to wear a mask after the mandate is lifted?” With the options of “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” or “other,” with room for a short explanation.

  • 35.1% of responders said yes;
  • 29.2% of responders said no;
  • 24% of responders said maybe;
  • and 11.7% of responders said other with an explanation.
Forms response chart. Question title: Will you continue to wear a mask after the mandate is lifted?. Number of responses: 171 responses.

Many responders who left explanations felt comfortable not wearing masks in social settings with close friends but will continue to where one in class, large social gatherings, indoor locations, or around people who are uncomfortable/immunocompromised. Many also felt it should be left up to the individual teachers whether masks should still be worn during class.

The survey then asked students their opinion on the change to the mandate advisory so close to spring break. While there were mixed responses, many felt that the timing of the mandate lift was not correct. These explanations can summarize those opinions, “There are always high cases after vacations/break, so coming back to campus after spring break could be an issue” and “The mask mandate should not be lifted this semester.” 

The final required question on the survey asked, “Do you want the mask mandate to be lifted at all?” Which was added after 38 responses had been recorded due to feedback on the survey. The given response options were “yes,” “no,” or “other,” with another chance for written explanations of their opinions. 

  • 63.2% of responders said yes;
  • 25.6% of responders said no;
  • and 11.2% of responders said other and left an explanation of their thoughts.
Forms response chart. Question title: Do you want the mask mandate to be lifted at all?. Number of responses: 133 responses.

The majority of responders believe that, in general, the mask mandate should be lifted. However, those who left open responses explained that they wanted the mask mandate lifted, just not now. One responder stated that “eventually yes, I do I’m just not sure if now is the approximate time to lift it.” Another said that “it would be nice, but until everyone is safe from covid, we should wear masks.” 

It is evident that lifting the mask mandate right before a break would lead to a rise in cases due to less protection from transmission. However, spring break, in particular, poses another issue. For decades, college spring breaks have been infamously crazy party weeks where students from across the world gather together in tropical locations and disregard just about any rule they can think of. 

Spring breaks during the COVID-19 pandemic have continued that chaotic tradition despite the state of the world.  Just look at the conditions of Miami Beach, FL, during the spring break season last year in 2021. Spring break destinations have become opportunities for super-spreader events. And many UmassD students will attend them this year. That fact is inevitable, and that is why lifting the mask mandate right before students return from spring break will pose an increased risk for an on-campus outbreak to occur.

My fellow UmassD peers and I call on Chancellor Mark A. Fuller to reassess the changes made to the mask advisory. We know about the distribution of at-home COVID tests for resident and commuter students, but that is not enough. We want, at the very least on-campus COVID testing during the return of students following spring break. We implore you to give teachers the option to require masks during their classes. We request that you communicate better with your community and receive our input before making extensive changes that will affect us all.

Thank you,

Torch Staff Writer Roxanne Hepburn

Below are further messages left by responders meant for Chancellor Fuller.

  • “Please make sure you react accordingly when the rate of positive Covid cases rise.”
  • “I like this idea, should’ve waited a little longer so that you can have a plan for this. Like having weekly covid testings.”
  • “I know people who have died from covid. I know cases are getting swept under so people can do whatever they want. It’s selfish for those who are immune-compromised.”
  • “We should really be checking on class sizes. One of my classes is huge we ended up splitting which days we will meet. So that people aren’t standing. It’s scary coming close to days where the majority won’t be wearing masks.”
  • “I just think the timing of the lift is not right. I know we’re all going to want to enjoy our spring break, but that has a cost.”
  • “I’m not aware of any attempts that were made to engage or consult with the student population regarding this decision. Many people are immunocompromised and that should be taken serious.”
  • “It was an abrupt decision without the input of the UMassD community or consideration for people with health risks.”
  • “If your going to lift the mask mandate make it for 2 weeks after spring break so no one who went somewhere where Covid was can spread it to others, regardless of vaccination status.”
  • “Maybe have everyone get tested before spring break and see the covid levels and if very low, then lift the mandate after the break to the school has time to get the results out and recorded.”
  • “While I am personally happy to know that the mandate will be lifted, I do question how the mandate will continue to be enforced for those on campus who are not fully vaccinated or are immunocompromised. Will these individuals be specifically monitored or will it be entirely based on an honor system?”
  • “The mask mandate is joke, I have a teacher who takes her mask off for the entire class, yet will ask students to pull there masks up. I’m very indifferent on the matter, I do what i’m told but there’s clearly some double standards.”
  • “For general safety, I would definitely suggest keeping the mandate in place. Especially after spring break, since everyone is going home or going anywhere and might bring back anything. Maybe two weeks after spring break it would be grounds to consider making masks optional, but I’m not sure how smart that could be.”
  • “I believe that this will lead to a covid outbreak due to poor timing of spring break as well as the fact that covid cases are still high.”
  • “With all due respect, it seems too soon to lift the mask mandate in light of recent news of the new variant, probability of future variants, and the uncertainty of their severity and contagion levels as discussed in the medical community.”
  • “I don’t think that lifting the mandate is a good choice. You can still get Covid while vaccinated and the pandemic is not over. Rather than getting rid of the masks, I think we should be continuing to enforce them; there are plenty of people not wearing their masks properly even now, and there are unvaccinated people walking around on campus. All it takes is one person.”

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