Two years after the University of Michigan first canceled classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it lifted its mask mandate Monday in most indoor spaces on campus. The news means students, faculty and staff will be able to take their masks off in offices, residence halls and at athletic events at the University.
With news of the update on the mask mandate, students said they were happy to rejoin their peers in non-masked settings. But for some, the move to remove the required masking seemed too soon.
The University of Michigan updated its mask mandate on March 14 to make face-coverings optional for most indoor spaces on campus, including offices, residence halls and athletic events.
According to the updated policy, students will still be required to wear masks in classrooms and instructional spaces. Additionally, COVID-19 testing sites and campus buses will continue to require masks at least until the end of the Winter 2022 semester. Business senior Mason Hinawi said he supports the update to the mask mandate but thinks classrooms should also be exempt from the requirement.
“I feel like the classroom requirement is burdensome on a lot of students,” Hinawi said. “(COVID-19) has been a cloak over everyone’s social lives. I feel like it’s time for things to start moving in the right direction here.”
The University’s current guidelines require students who live on campus to be fully vaccinated, including the booster. On-campus testing programs are also available for both asymptomatic and symptomatic students. On March 17, the U-M Maize & Blueprint issued new guidance stating that individuals — regardless of vaccination status — no longer need to quarantine following close contact exposures.
German Lecturer Mary Gell said she was hoping for the mask mandate to follow the lead of many school districts in the state, which have lifted mask requirements making them optional in classrooms.
“I feel very safe with our access to KN95 masks, shots and boosters,” Gell said. “Having the masks and the shots give me confidence and I feel like we could make masks optional going forward.”
LSA senior Patience Young said she thought relaxing the mask mandate was too abrupt, especially considering some students may be health-compromised and face increased risks.
“I think the University could have done more to educate the population about the importance of wearing a mask in public spaces,” Young said. “I just feel that the mask mandate should not have been lifted so easily. Many people are under the impression that everyone on campus is young and healthy but that’s not always the case.”
English Lecturer Isabel Neal said it’s not clear what’s been accomplished by having a mask mandate where not all indoor spaces are covered, including teaching spaces.
“I only interact closely with students indoors in my classroom, and the masking status in the classroom hasn’t changed,” Neal said. “But I do feel aware of the shift in other spaces, I can’t say that it’s affecting my instruction directly, but I am aware of it.”
Hinawi also said he is excited to experience the rest of the semester without masks because a majority of his education has been overshadowed by COVID-19.
“The pandemic started when I was a sophomore, so I feel like it has an effect on my education overall,” Hinawi said. “It’s impacted my ability to make friends and enjoy going to clubs or working with people. But ultimately we have to respect everyone’s choices, even if they choose not to wear a mask.”
While the update to the mask mandate made face masking optional in many areas at the University, masks are still required in classrooms. Gell said, as a language teacher, it is difficult to work with and encourage students to engage in open conversation with the mask as a barrier.
Gell said she thought it would be helpful for instructors to have the option to require masks in the classroom, which would still allow instructors to feel comfortable with teaching.
“It’s human communication,” Gell said. “We rely so much on facial expressions and gestures and it is very difficult to have conversations with masks on. But I still want everyone to feel comfortable. It should be optional in the classroom but if other people are comfortable with the current situation, I’m happy to go along with that.”
Young said having masks be optional doesn’t truly protect the whole population of students and faculty from COVID-19.
“We know scientifically that the person who might have COVID-19 is the one who has to have a mask on to reduce transmission,” Young said. “The mask cannot just be worn by the person who’s trying to not get it.”
Neal said she believes that important decisions like the mask mandate should be made based on the health of all people on campus.
“It’s important to me that the University should be making decisions like these with the most vulnerable members at the University and in our community in mind,” Neal said. “I personally can’t imagine being unmasked indoors with students right now.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at email@example.com.