U.S. Colleges Suddenly Reinstate Mask Mandates

(PresidentialHill.com)- After a spike in Covid cases, at least a dozen schools and institutions reinstated indoor mask requirements this month.

Many universities, including Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown, have announced plans to reintroduce the requirement. Some schools noted the threat of the virus’s most infectious subvariant, omicron BA.2.

Their actions come as BA.2 cases surge across the country, and debate rages over whether to reintroduce masks. Just weeks after several cities lifted public health regulations, giving Americans a sense of normalcy not seen since the virus hit more than two years ago, policymakers are considering requiring facial coverings.

According to Neil Maniar, director of Northeastern University’s Master of Public Health in Urban Health Program, the national discussion about mask regulations reflects pandemic weariness and significant political disagreements over Covid.

He said it is hard to separate the political side from the public health and scientific realities.

Last week, a federal court slapped down a federal mask mandate for flights and other public transit, raising questions about whether the steps were premature given the rise in cases. Last week, the Biden administration appealed.

The first major US city to reintroduce the indoor mask law, Philadelphia removed it Friday. The turnaround came after a recent drop in Covid cases and hospitalizations in the city.
There were 242 new cases per day on Thursday, down from 377 on April 14. From 82 on April 17, the city reported 65 hospitalizations on Thursday.
Six Philadelphia schools responded to the city’s reversal by relaxing their stricter mask regulations announced earlier. Jefferson, Drexel, Temple, La Salle, and St. Joseph’s.

Masks are no longer required in indoor public locations on campus but are required in classrooms, campus transit, and health care settings.

Changes in Covid infections have caused academic institutions to rethink mask policy. Three New York schools renewed indoor mask requirements.
Earlier this month, the University of Rochester stated that it would temporarily reinstate its indoor mask requirement across all campuses. On its campuses, quarantine and isolation areas have been “strained” because of an increase in Covid cases.

Students at Columbia University in New York City must wear non-cloth masks in class for the duration of the spring semester. The university’s test positive rate and NYC case count both increased.

After lifting the rule on March 28, Barnard College, a women’s institution associated with Columbia, reinstated it on April 6.

Cases in the nation’s largest metropolis are increasing. The CDC reported 2,348 daily new cases in NYC on April 18, up from 2,027 a week earlier. The data reveals a seven-day average of 1,565 cases in the city.

The CDC reported that the seven-day rolling average in New York state, excluding New York City, was 4,029. A seven-day test positive rate increased from 3.65% to 8.97% from April 1 to 22.

After many weeks, New York State and NYC have not reintroduced indoor mask requirements. MTA enforces masks on NYC subways and buses despite a Florida judge’s ruling last week to overturn the federal mask law.

Gov. Kathy Hochul stated that the transit mask rule stays under state health agency guidelines.

Howard University in Washington, D.C., has reinstated mask restrictions. Until the end of the spring semester, students must conceal their faces in all indoor and outdoor group settings. The university also announced it would hold some undergraduate courses online during finals week and administer exams virtually.

GWU declared earlier this month that all campus facilities would need masks. The school said the rule would last through exams and graduation through the spring semester.

Indoor masks will be required on two of American University’s campuses and two of Georgetown’s campuses. The rule does not apply to those in private offices or homes or those actively eating or drinking.

All four D.C. institutions reported substantial regional transmission and considerable campus case increases, driven by BA.2.

The CDC reported 119 new cases daily in Washington on April 18, down from 293 a week earlier. From April 1 to 17, the district’s seven-day test positive rate climbed from 1.8 to 5.44 percent. As of April 22, the percentage of positive cases was 3.89 percent.

Since late February, Washington has not reintroduced its indoor mask requirement. After the Florida judge ruled, D.C. Metro made masks optional on buses, trains, and shared-ride services.

The reinstatement of mask requirements at colleges reaches beyond New York and Washington. The University of Connecticut, Bowdoin College, Rice University, and Williams College reinstated indoor face-covering rules. According to Johns Hopkins, masks will be required in classes, residence halls, and dining facilities, except when actively eating or drinking.

Maniar said other colleges and municipal governments might reintroduce mask requirements in the future, based on local Covid indications.

He added that it’s conceivable to bring back masks when we see a surge in cases, hospitalizations, and percent positivity. We want to prevent overburdening the healthcare system in a given neighborhood or area. So, if those signs start to climb, I can see mask restrictions reinstated in various contexts, especially universities.