Campus transitions to mask-optional

By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
News Co-Editors

On Thursday, March 3, the Washington College Contingency Planning Group announced via campus-wide email that, based on recent guideline updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Kent County’s classification of Chestertown as having low community spread of COVID-19; and the College’s own low risk levels and high vaccination rate, the campus will transition from “a universal indoor mask mandate to being mask-optional.”

According to Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm, this update was made “with really close attention to data [and] guidance” from the CDC, American College Health Association, and campus and local community reports.

According to the March 3 email, the decision whether or not to wear a mask will be left “solely up to the individual” and will be “made based on their own personal risk factors and level of comfort” in any learning space, including classrooms and labs.

However, the CPG will continue to strongly recommend all WC students, staff, and faculty members to wear masks in indoor public areas in the following circumstances: if they experience any cold or flu-like symptoms, including a fever, a runny or stuffy nose, a sore throat, or congestion; if they were in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19; if they are unvaccinated or are not fully vaccinated; or if they have underlying health concerns that increase personal risk factors.

According to the email, masks are still required for individuals visiting the Counseling Center or Health Services, including those who have appointments for COVID-19 testing.

Additionally, individuals cannot overrule the policy with a mask requirement in their own classes, groups, or other meetings, and must remain optional, according to the update.

As this policy is subject to change for the remainder of the spring semester, members of the WC community are still encouraged to respect the mask-wearing decisions of their peers and fellow individuals.

Upon hearing the news of this updated policy, many WC students expressed conflicting thoughts.

“When I got the email regarding the new mask policy, I was somewhat confused because, at the beginning of the semester, there was a decent number of students and staff members with COVID-19 — including myself…[and] it really seemed like they were taking very strict measures, but it was for the good of our campus community,” freshman Lezzy Umanzor said. “However, now that it is optional, we can easily assume that the majority of the people will just not wear a mask, since we have been dealing with the virus for quite a long time now.”

    For another student, the combination of the “odd” timing of the announcement before spring break and the possibility of further outbreaks makes them feel that this transition “is not the right time.”

    “Given that some students will be traveling off-campus to a possibly larger populated area, it seems risky,” anonymous said. “Though surveillance testing is recommended for returning students, how will the school keep track of those who left campus and those who got tested when they returned to campus?” 

    Senior Ala Hussen echoed this sentiment, saying that she fears that “the [number of] cases may rise again” after spring break.

Despite the now-optional recommendation, Dr. Feyerherm said that for the remainder of the 2022 spring semester, the campus will continue to “push out education and availability of masks,” as well as emphasize existing 2022 spring semester COVID-19 guidelines, including getting tested, practicing social distancing when possible, and taking immediate steps to quarantine and/or isolate upon receiving a positive COVID-19 test result.

“Making [masks] as available as we can and continuing to encourage people to wear them when they are in certain situations…needs to keep going,” Dr. Feyerherm said.

According to Dr. Feyerherm, N95 and KN95 masks will continue to be readily accessible. Students can either reach out to Health Services or the Office of Student Affairs to pick up masks.

“I think this [update] has been helpful. I know a lot of people were concerned and a little bit anxious about the switch to mask optional, but I think anything like this takes a little bit of time for people to get used to,” Dr. Feyerherm said.

According to a CPG update released on March 11, the College is updating campus-wide signage to reflect the updated mask-optional policy. This will include implementing double-sided signs on facility entrances that will indicate whether a certain building is Mask Required or Mask Optional.

Additionally, students who traveled over spring break to areas deemed high or medium risk for COVID-19 are strongly recommended to schedule testing appointments three to five days after returning to campus, according to the update. Appointments can be scheduled via the Student Health Portal.

Elm Archive Photo

Featured Photo Caption: Since the announcement from the Contingency Planning Group, the Washington College community continues its transition from a mask required to a mask-optional campus.

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