US universities reinstate mask mandates

Masked to protect against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), senior Lauren Pyjar takes advantage of the warm sun to study outdoors at Georgetown University in Washington, March 9, 2021.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

At least a dozen colleges and universities across the United States reinstated their indoor mask mandates this month after Covid cases spiked on their campuses.

Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University, among others, have announced they will again require face coverings in classrooms or certain indoor spaces. Some schools cited the threat of the more contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant, now the dominant strain of the virus in the United States

Their moves come as BA.2 fuels a nationwide rise in cases and a divide over whether to mandate masks again to mitigate its spread. Policymakers have considered the politically contentious issue of whether to require face coverings just weeks after many cities eased their public health restrictions, giving Americans a sense of normalcy not seen since the pandemic hit. over two years ago.

“The national debate over mask mandates certainly reflects both pandemic fatigue and the deep political divisions we have in terms of Covid-related public health policy,” said Neil Maniar, director of the Master of Public Health in Urban. Northeastern University Health Program.

“It’s impossible to disentangle the politics of public health from the scientific realities of how we can respond to this pandemic,” he said.

The abandonment of the pandemic-era rules – and concerns over whether the moves were premature amid rising cases – continued last week after a federal judge overturned a warrant for federal mask for airplanes and other public transport. Biden administration plans to appeal decision.

Philadelphia also lifted its indoor mask mandate on Friday, just days after becoming the first major US city to reinstate it. Public health officials said the reversal followed a recent drop in Covid cases and hospitalizations in the city.

The average number of new cases fell to 242 per day on Thursday, from a peak of 377 on April 14. Hospitalizations also fell to 65 on Thursday, from 82 on April 17, according to one city. Press release.

Six Philadelphia schools responded to the city’s reversal, relaxing their stricter mask rules that were reintroduced earlier in the week in accordance with the city’s mandate. They include Thomas Jefferson, Drexel, Temple, the roomand Saint Joseph University.

The University of Pennsylvania has also survey its mask requirement for indoor public spaces on campus, but still requires masks in classrooms, on campus transit, and in health care facilities.

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Maniar said decisions about masks represent a move toward more local and individualized decision-making during the pandemic response.

“We’re moving from this one-size-fits-all approach to much more localized and much more personalized approaches that really respond to the level of Covid in a certain community, organization or university,” Maniar said.

“Depending on what is happening in a certain area, reinstating a mask requirement may or may not be warranted as long as it is done in a way that responds to the evidence locally,” he added.

New York State

Beyond Philadelphia, changes in Covid infections have forced schools to reconsider their mask policies. Three New York State schools have reinstated their indoor mask mandates.

The University of Rochester announced earlier this month that it would temporarily roll back its indoor mask mandate on all of its campuses and properties. The university said it was responding to a spike in Covid cases that are “straining the capacity” of quarantine and isolation spaces on its campuses.

“The high number of COVID-positive student cases at the University in recent days makes it in everyone’s interest to take the step of remasking indoors now,” said the university in a press release.

In New York, Columbia University said earlier this month that students would be required to wear non-cloth masks in classrooms for the remainder of the spring semester. Columbia cited a slight increase in the number of cases in New York and the university’s test positivity rate.

Barnard College, a women’s college affiliated with Columbia, also has reimposed its mask mandate for some indoor spaces on April 6 due to a spike in cases since it lifted the rule on March 28.

The decisions come as cases rise in the largest city in the United States. The seven-day rolling average of new daily cases in New York was 2,348 on April 18, up from 2,027 a week earlier, according to Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases in the city have since fallen to a seven-day average of 1,565, the data showed.

In New York state, excluding New York, the overall seven-day moving average was 4,029 on April 24, down from 3,631 on April 18 and 2,899 a week earlier, CDC Data mentioned. The state’s seven-day test positivity rate also rose from 3.65% to 8.97% from April 1 to April 22.

New York State and NYC have not reinstated indoor mask mandates after lifting them several weeks ago. But the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is still requiring masks on New York’s subways and buses, despite a Florida judge’s decision to overturn the federal transportation mask mandate this week.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul mentioned in a Twitter post that the transit mask requirement would remain in place per state health department guidelines.

washington d.c.

In Washington DC, Howard University is the latest school to reintroduce mask requirements. Students will be required to wear face coverings for all indoor settings and outdoor group settings until the end of its spring semester. The university also went further than other schools, announcing that it would hold some undergraduate courses online during the last days of classes and hold final exams virtually.

George Washington University has also announced earlier this month that masks would be required for all campus facilities last week. The school noted that the tenure would span the remainder of its spring semester, exam period and start.

American University too reinstated its indoor mask mandate for all buildings on campus and Georgetown announcement masks should be indoors on two of its campuses. Both universities said the mandate would not apply to people in private offices or personal residences, or to people who actively eat or drink.

All four DC universities have cited high transmission in the region and significant increases in cases on their campuses, which are driven in part by BA.2.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Washington DC was 119 on April 18, up from 293 a week earlier, according to the CDC. Data. The district’s seven-day test positivity rate, however, rose from 1.8% to 5.45% from April 1 to 17. The percentage of positive cases has since fallen to 3.89% as of April 22.

washington d.c. finished his indoor mask mandate at the end of February and has not reinstated it since. The DC Metro did optional masks on its buses, railroads and transit service after the Florida judge’s decision.

The return of mask mandates to universities goes beyond major cities like New York and Washington. Schools that have reintroduced face covering requirements indoors include the University of Connecticuyou, Bowdoin University, rice university and Williams College. JHU too mentioned on April 6, masks would be required in classrooms, common areas of residence halls, and dining halls, except when actively eating or drinking.

Maniar said other universities and local jurisdictions may reinstate their mask mandates in the future, adding that they should base their decisions on Covid indicators in their communities.

“It is certainly possible to bring masks back to where we see an increase in the number of cases, a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and a corresponding increase in the percentage of positivity,” he said.

Maniar added: “We just want to avoid a situation where we are overloading the health system in a certain community or area. So if we start to see an increase in these indicators, then I can see that triggering a reinstatement of mask requirements in some circles and certainly in academia.”

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