Members of the university community eagerly await partial lifting of mask mandate – The Cavalier Daily

Many community members are excited to return to a more normal college experience with the announcement that masks will no longer be required except in classrooms, public transit services and U.Va. Health facilities. Students and faculty members expressed excitement about using gyms and interacting in person without masks, while noting the importance of respecting others’ preferences.

University President Jim Ryan announced the partial lifting of the mask requirement in an email sent February 22, citing a slowed transmission of COVID-19 and a reduction in hospitalizations, isolation and the number of reported cases.

“Our goal has always been to impose the fewest restrictions on this community necessary to protect public health, and that goal will guide our decision-making going forward,” the email read.

Since March 16, the Online University COVID-19 tracker reports 19 active cases in the community – including 9 students – one percent of isolation beds occupied and 41 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The City of Charlottesville also saw an 82% increase to diminish average of cases reported over the past 14 days, with 50% of residents fully vaccinated.

Many community members said they felt safe with the new changes, including associate professor of biology Dave Kittlesen, who said he appreciated the objective data used to back up the latest decision.

“I thought it was well communicated by [Ryan] and the provost in their announcement,” Kittlesen said. “They’ve highlighted about half a dozen metrics that are measurable data that informs that decision.”

Kittlesen does not anticipate a large spike in cases as a result of the lightened protocol, and said he remains hopeful that conditions will continue to improve so that students and faculty can safely remove masks in the room as well. of class.

The move comes two years after masking began in college classrooms in fall 2020 after a period of online learning the previous spring. The masks were mandatory at all times indoors – except in private spaces such as dorms or apartments – and outdoors when six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. Administration survey the mask mandate on May 14 of the same year following CDC guidelines stating that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear a mask.

On August 6, however, before the start of the fall 2021 semester, executive vice presidents Liz Magill and JJ Davis announced in an email to students that the school year would begin with a mask requirement for those vaccinated. and unvaccinated in shared indoor spaces. , but not outside.

The message presented the fall masking policy as a temporary reaction to the Delta Variant COVID-19, with plans to continue to reassess throughout the semester.

While masks are optional in many University-owned buildings, they will still be required in classrooms — a frustration for Kittlesen, who reported struggles with face coverings in the classroom.

“It’s harder to get to know my students,” Kittlessen said. “It’s more difficult to learn and remember names. It is more difficult to read faces in class in terms of comprehension and questioning. So I think it really has a real negative impact on teaching and learning.

Now, more than two years after the mask mandate was first put in place, the mask mandate will be reduced on March 21 – a date chosen to create a buffer between the policy change and the return of students from spring break, the Classes resume March 14.

With students no longer required to wear masks in the dining halls, staff in the dining halls also feel relieved by the change — Sal Solero, executive chef of Observatory Hill Dining Hall, said most members of the staff are delighted with the change and relatively indifferent to the exposure of students.

“I think everyone is done with the masks,” Solero said.

According to the update, teachers at restaurants and recreation facilities will continue to wear masks as a precaution, but Solero remains hopeful that they too will be able to unmask soon.

“I can’t wait not to wear [masks] more, especially since they’re really hot in the kitchen,” Solero said.

In addition to dining halls, masking has been mandatory in recreational facilities for over two years now. With the new change, many workers are looking forward to a new working environment.

Michael Shipe, director of marketing and communications for IM-Rec sports, said the many staff members are delighted with the change, which has created an additional task for workers to regulate mask wearing in leisure facilities. Shipe also said the health and safety of staff will remain a priority.

“Most employees seem to be looking forward to this [change]”, Shipe said. “Of course, personal health and safety in the workplace is something we take seriously, and we will work with our staff to ensure they have what they need to be at work and have peace of mind.”

Although mask-wearing is no longer required, staff will continue sanitation efforts to maintain safety. Shipe said staff will still provide disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, as well as electrostatic sprayers and CO2 level sensors to monitor air quality.

Ryan affirmed the safety of the reduced requirement in the announcement, citing global trends of declining cases and the effectiveness of the University’s COVID-19 policies.

“We are seeing encouraging signs that the global omicron wave is waning and our collective efforts as a community are effective in slowing the transmission of the virus,” Ryan said.

After almost two years of masking, many students are also looking forward to the lighter requirements. College freshman Carly Nerger said while she wants masks to be optional in classrooms as well, she understands the reasoning and is especially looking forward to hitting the gym mask-free.

“People have the option of avoiding the gym if they’re worried about exposure to COVID-19, but everyone has to go to class, so I still understand wearing masks in that setting to protect the immunocompromised. “Nerger said. “I’m really excited about the change to the gym as it’s boring to wear a mask while doing a hard workout.”

Also noting that the masking requirement is an inconvenience when using leisure facilities, college freshman Victoria Phan sees the lifting of the mask requirement as an improvement in the school’s leisure offerings. University as well as an important step towards returning to normalcy and moving away from a long period of mandatory COVID-19 safety measures.

“Over the past two years, I’ve adapted to wearing a mask while training,” Phan said. “However, the removal of the mask mandate … gives a hint of hope that things can return to normal.”

Despite positive reactions from some students and faculty members, the representative body of the Student Council adopted a resolution denouncing the University’s decision to waive certain requirements for indoor masks at its Meet March 1, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing issue.

“The University made this decision keeping in mind the threat of the virus to fully vaccinated and healthy people, without mentioning its threat to those who are vulnerable despite vaccination status,” the resolution reads.

Tyler Busch, a sophomore at the College, co-sponsored the resolution with Gabriela Hernandez, president of the representative body and a third-year student at the College. During the meeting, Busch expressed his displeasure with the University’s decision.

“The reason I’m bringing this resolution now is simply because, to me, this idea of…lifting some mask mandates indoors seems like ableism, plain and simple,” Busch said.

Isabelle Nguyen, a third-year commerce student, said she believes people should continue to wear masks if they wish, regardless of the mandate lifted.

“I think the biggest difficulty that will come out of that is really going to be accepting people from wherever they are,” Nyugen said. “Even if the mask mandate is down, if you want to choose a mask, that’s totally your thing. We all need to respect each other’s boundaries.

Ryan’s email concluded by thanking the community for “the enormous and consistent effort we have all made to protect each other at every step of this long journey” and stating that the policies will continue to be assessed as the pandemic evolves.

After two years of masking requirements, the change in policy marks a turning point. Nyugen remembers a moment before the masking and looks forward to a return to real face-to-face interactions.

“I think it will be good for all of us to be able to see and recognize each other as people,” Nyugen said.

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