University of Richmond officials announced that starting Monday the indoor mask mandate would be rescinded and asymptomatic close contacts would not have to quarantine, citing the decline in COVID-19 cases over the past week.
Starting next week, professors will have the ability to determine whether they will require masks in their classrooms or small meetings, according to an email sent to community members today from David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost and Shannon Sinclair, vice president and general counsel.
“We understand that this change in our mask policy will be welcome news to many, but that others will disagree with making such a change,” Hale, Legro and Sinclair wrote. “We assure you that this decision was made after careful consideration and with a sincere commitment to the best interests of our campus community.”
The policy change shows that the UR community has been ignoring COVID-19 for the sake of “going back to normal,” junior Daniel Saravia Romero said. Overall, he felt conflicted about the decision but would continue wearing a mask indoors, he said.
“I just don't feel safe around the student body like knowing what people usually do outside of school,” he said. “I’m not trying to expose myself to COVID-19 or the people I care about.”
There are still other occasions where students, faculty and staff will have to wear masks:
- When someone has symptoms, tests positive or is identified as a close contact of a person who contracted COVID-19
- When visiting the Student Health Center, on-campus testing clinic and Sports Medicine
- When using public transportation, including UR’s shuttles
Though masks will not be required at dining locations, community members are encouraged to wear one when getting food, according to the email. Work settings where physical distancing is difficult may also require the use of masks. Although the email did not specify instances where that would be applicable, Dining Services staff will be required to continue wearing masks until for now, wrote Sunni Brown, director of media and public relations, in an email to The Collegian.
First-year Selena Deng said ending the mask mandates seemed unfair for Dining Services staff.
“I just feel bad for the food service workers because I know professors are allowed to mandate a mask in class, but the food service workers can't do that,” she said.
A “test-to-stay” approach will be adopted to avoid sending asymptomatic students who are close contacts to quarantine and isolation units, according to the email. This means that asymptomatic community members will not be required to quarantine if they get a negative test for five days after they are notified of their status as close contacts of someone who contracted COVID-19, according to the email.
Deng, who said she would continue wearing a mask indoors, also disagreed with UR’s decision to not require quarantine for asymptomatic close contacts.
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“I just think it's a little bit inconsiderate for the safety of other students, but I can understand them trying to help people get back into regular life,” she said.
But the decision was not entirely sudden. It came a week after Hale, Legro and Sinclair said that UR would consider eliminating the mask mandate when they announced masks would no longer be required in residence halls and while actively exercising in the Weinstein Center for Recreation.
Senior Charlie Tabor said he was excited about not having to wear a mask anymore, but he was still apprehensive about whether the policy change would be permanent.
“In the past, we've been pretty hasty with it,” Tabor said. “We've gone back and forth, and I guess I'm worried that maybe this is us just backtracking a little bit. And maybe it's not going to be the final time or maybe it's not the best decision.”
UR announced the decision two days after the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill to make masks optional in the state’s K-12 schools.
The transition from mandatory to optional indoor masking policies is bound to be a highly contested matter in communities with widely varying opinions on public health philosophies, communal obligations, individual choice and how sizable the threat of COVID-19 is, wrote Mary Tate, a law professor and faculty senate president, in an email to The Collegian.
“It is my hope that we weather this evolution, whether it is temporary or permanent, in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” she said.
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