As of today, students, faculty and staff will no longer be required to wear masks while actively exercising in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and students will not be required to wear them in residence hall common areas.
The change was prompted by a "significant decrease" in the number of COVID-19 cases on campus and modeling data that found the U.S. has passed the peak of omicron, David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost and Shannon Sinclair, vice president and general counsel, wrote in an email to the campus community on Feb. 9.
Currently, there are 23 active COVID-19 cases among students, staff and faculty, according to UR’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The University of Richmond is also giving active consideration to rescinding the universal indoor mask requirement in the coming weeks, Hale, Legro and Sinclair wrote in the email.
Senior John Parish thinks the change in policy was a good idea, he said.
“With almost all of the student body being vaccinated and a sharp decline in cases on campus, I look forward to the mask requirement relaxing,” Parish said.
This announcement comes a day after an Arlington judge temporarily blocked Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s mask mandate ban, which would affect seven Virginia school districts.
"This change would continue to permit instructors to require masks in the classroom," the email stated. "Any member of our community is always welcome to choose to wear a mask at any location on our campus, and we continue to strongly support that decision."
UR previously relaxed its mask policy in the gym on Nov. 6 to allow people to exercise without a mask but reversed to a stricter policy updated on Jan. 4 to require masking in the gym at all times because of an increase in COVID-19 cases. The three-court gymnasium closed as a result of visitors’ non-compliance with UR’s mask policy last month.
UR will continue to make COVID-19 self-test kits readily available and is extending the option to work remotely for high-risk community members who have received previous approval, according to the email.
This update comes two weeks after UR faced a 153% increase in COVID-19 cases and the percentage of occupied quarantine and isolation space doubled.
Senior Arghawan Darvesh said removing the mask requirement completely was a bad idea. Despite the lower number of cases, if students don’t show symptoms, they’re not going to get tested, she said.
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“It’s worse because Richmond is not really fully requiring students to get vaccinated,” she continued. “There’s reasons students can opt-out. It’s the fact that we do know there is a percentage of students who are not vaccinated.”
Virginia Tech, George Mason University, the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University got rid of their vaccine mandates following state Attorney General Jason Miyares’ legal opinion, in which he outlined that state universities can’t require students to get vaccinated unless the commonwealth's legislature includes it among required immunizations for colleges. Despite these changes at other universities in the state, UR has kept its vaccine requirement that allows exceptions for medical and religious exemptions and “strong personal convictions.”
First-year Cheryl Oppan said she understood the frustration with COVID-19 and mentioned that the pandemic had been ongoing for almost two years now, but didn’t necessarily agree with the change in policy.
"But even though cases aren't rising, it still does not mean that everybody's COVID-free and so it's a reason to lift masks,” Oppan said. “I still think that we should keep our masks on indoors. I think the exception of residence halls are fine, like if you're in your residence hall or laundry room. But as far as the gym, I feel like it should.”
Copy chief Madyson Fitzgerald contributed to reporting.
Contact city and state editor Meredith Moran at email@example.com.
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