Students await NYU mask mandate decision

In anticipation of NYU’s decision regarding indoor mask wearing, community members debate the effectiveness of COVID-19 restrictions.

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Farheen Khan

Students in class must wear masks due to NYU’s mask mandate. NYU is considering updating its policies regarding indoor mask-wearing in the upcoming weeks. (Photo by Farheen Khan)

Nicole Lu, Contributing Writer

NYU has yet to decide whether it will keep or remove its mask mandate weeks after other institutions, including Columbia University and the City University of New York, lifted their mandates. At a March 3 town hall meeting, Carlo Ciotoli, the head of NYU’s COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team, announced that the university would reevaluate its mask policy after students returned from spring break, which ended on March 20.

As NYU students and faculty await the university’s decision, cases have increased in New York City and local universities have been removing COVID-19 regulations. On March 5, NYU announced it would ease restrictions on eating indoors for community members, including in settings where attendance is optional, such as club meetings.

“It is a smart move,” Robyn Gershon, an epidemiology professor at the School of Global Public Health, wrote to WSN. “NYU appropriately identified the difference between eating in places where attendance is mandatory and eating in places where attendance is a personal choice. If people are at heightened risk or just simply feel uncomfortable being around others who are not wearing masks, then they can opt out and not be uncomfortable doing so.”

In the week before CUNY dropped its mandate on March 7, it reported a 0.3% positivity rate from 9,040 total tests conducted. The following week, it reported a 0.4% positivity rate from 8,333 tests conducted. Columbia found a 1.21% positivity rate from 3,212 tests before ending its mask mandate on March 14. The university has since reported a drop in both cases and tests administered as a 1.17% positivity rate was reported from 1,537 tests. 

In early March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams suspended several “Key to NYC” guidelines, including the indoor mask and vaccine mandates. The waiving of the requirements, which were enforced since Aug. 17, 2021, has prompted discussion within the NYU community over whether New York City and the university are ready to loosen COVID-19 restrictions.

“I don’t think we should remove vaccine mandates, and it will be harder to enforce mask mandates on campus when people don’t have to wear them in other settings,” Melody Goodman, the associate dean of research at GPH, wrote to WSN. “That said, I don’t think that mask-optional is really a mitigation strategy.”

CAS sophomore Isabella Newlands believes NYU should loosen its mask mandate since the majority of students, faculty and staff are vaccinated. They said, however, that they would be uncomfortable in settings where people are both unmasked and unvaccinated.

“I’m a little bit mixed about it,” Newlands said. “I work in the service industry, so I normally have to check people’s vaccine cards. We’ve stopped doing that, which is a little bit jarring. I would like mask mandates to be lifted, but for vaccinations to remain because I think the point of getting the vaccine for a lot of people is we would finally be able to take off our masks.”

While some believe that mask mandates should be loosened soon, others — including CAS sophomore Justin Wang — believe it should continue to be enforced. New York state has seen an increase of 36% in cases over the last two weeks

“I don’t know why Mayor Adams lifted the vaccination mandate because honestly, it seems like it’d be a pretty important thing to have regardless,” Wang said. “There are still a few variants out there that I’m like, ‘OK, let’s still keep this in for a bit.’”

CAS first-year Grace Kibbe said the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases — which is partially due to the new BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant of the virus — could put those at greater risk for infection in danger if mask and vaccine mandates are unenforced.

“I know that masks are annoying, but this is pretty premature considering the BA.2 variant that’s going through Europe right now,” Kibbe said.

Carmo Moniz contributed reporting.

Contact Nicole Lu at [email protected]