Colleges reinstitute mask mandates amid coronavirus case spikes

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Dive Brief:

  • Colleges across the U.S. are reinstating masking requirements as the country averages about 100,000 new coronavirus cases recorded daily for the first time in months. 
  • California universities, the University of Delaware, and Pennsylvania State University campuses are among those that have changed their rules amid the case spikes. 
  • These policies are temporary, and institutions haven’t made decisions for fall 2022.

Dive Insight:

Much of the U.S. has experienced an increase in the spread of the coronavirus over the past two weeks, and public health data is considered to be a vast undercount of actual cases as individuals test positive at home and do not report results.

As a result, colleges and universities have for several weeks been either extending or restoring face covering requirements. George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., reinstated a mask mandate in mid-April for most indoor spaces. At the time, the university urged the campus to wear N95 or KN95 masks in lieu of cloth ones, as they provide more protection from the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said. George Washington U announced on May 23 it would keep the mandate in place through the end of the month.

The University of Delaware similarly brought back masking requirements for indoor facilities, with narrow exceptions such as if a speaker is presenting 6 feet away from attendees. The university said the end of the academic year is typically a time for celebrations, such as graduations, “so it’s important that we all take every step possible to safeguard the health of ourselves and those around us.”

It said the mandate would be in effect until further notice. 

At least eight Penn State campuses in counties with high levels of detected coronavirus also returned to mask mandates.

On the other side of the country, a couple of campuses in the University of California system reinstated masking requirements, including UCLA and UC Santa Barbara.

UCLA on Thursday said it had recorded nearly 870 cases in the past week, which it considered to be a severe level of spread. It said it would keep its mask mandate in place through mid-June, applying it to indoor spaces, including indoor commencement ceremonies. Graduation speakers were allowed to remove their masks.

Chris Marsicano, founding director of the College Crisis Initiative, a research group at Davidson College in North Carolina that tracks the pandemic’s effects on higher education, said he’s unsurprised some institutions are returning to mask mandates as the country experiences another wave of the virus. They’re “responding to the facts on the ground,” he said.

He said it’s fortunate that many college students are starting to leave campuses for the summer while cases spike. 

“This is a really appropriate way of dealing with management of it at this stage,” Marsicano said.

Still, colleges’ masking policies differ based on locality and conditions. Syracuse University, for example, said those who are vaccinated won’t have to wear masks inside, beginning Wednesday.

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