Opinion: NYU’s mask policy is just for show

NYU’s mask policy is far stricter than local guidelines and sends the wrong message about vaccine efficacy. It would be more beneficial for the university to focus on encouraging booster shots. 

NYU+has+a+stricter+mask+policy+than+that+of+New+York+state.+The+school%E2%80%99s+policy+does+nothing+more+than+give+the+illusion+of+health+and+safety.+%28Illustration+by+Charlie+Dodge%29

Charlie Dodge

NYU has a stricter mask policy than that of New York state. The school’s policy does nothing more than give the illusion of health and safety. (Illustration by Charlie Dodge)

By Jules Roscoe, Staff Writer

Last year, the medical community rejoiced as Sandra Lindsay, a New York nurse, became the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and more joined Pfizer in developing vaccines against the virus. Vaccination clinics opened across the country. First-dose rates skyrocketed as availability increased. We were finally getting back to normal.

The reason the vaccine worked so well without an official mandate was because people were excited to get back to normal life — namely, to not wearing masks. If you’re fully vaccinated, “You can take off your mask in more settings,” reads NYC Health’s vaccine information site. “You do not need to wear a mask outdoors or when gathering with friends and family at home or in other private settings.” This freedom seemed to help motivate people to get vaccinated — in fact, New York City has an 80.7% adult vaccination rate as of Nov. 21. 

NYU’s mask policy is far stricter than New York City’s guidelines, even though our vaccination rate of 99% for students and faculty is far higher than the city’s. The university’s policy states that students may only remove their masks when eating, in their rooms or “working alone in single occupancy spaces with their doors closed.” What’s ironic is that, because students may only eat in designated areas, they end up crammed in a room with more unmasked students — the very situation NYU wants to avoid. 

All students interviewed in this article asked to remain anonymous due to the polarizing nature of the mask debate. One student I talked to brought up another issue: NYU has no official mask standard. Although they have seen most students on campus wearing cloth or surgical masks, KN95 and N95 masks offer more protection from germ particles. NYU’s mask policy isn’t thoroughly enforced, and it doesn’t stand up to criticism. 

Some students, including myself, are questioning whether it’s necessary to mandate mask-wearing so strictly in university buildings. Understandably, students might feel more comfortable wearing a mask in classroom situations — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in a young, healthy, fully-vaccinated population, such as that at NYU, some students feel like masks don’t do much. 

“Everyone is vaccinated, and the point of this would be such that restrictions could be lifted,” said one student. “Masking serves as theater and social signaling, when the more important preventative measure of vaccination is ensured.”

This student felt that masks help NYU maintain the appearance of strict and effective COVID-19 policies without actually aiding in the fight against the virus. Another student said, “Here [studying at Bobst Library], sitting at a distance from people, keeping your mask on at all times is kind of uncalled for.” A third said, “I guess if everyone is vaccinated and at least getting tested regularly, then I don’t see why it’s so necessary.”

Now, many health officials do agree on one thing: Vaccines are more effective. Dr. Anthony Fauci, in particular, is concerned about booster shots because nobody is getting them. 

In a recent interview with “The Daily,” a podcast from The New York Times, Fauci expressed his concern about the low rates of booster shots. “Boosting is going to be an absolutely essential component of our response — not a bonus, not a luxury, but an absolute essential part of the program,” he said.

NYU should follow expert advice and prioritize encouraging booster shots instead of focusing exclusively on mandatory masking in every building. 

Indeed, it does not seem like NYU cares much for the outcome of its mask policy as much as it does for legal liability. At the beginning of the fall term, a professor of mine requested that we keep our masks on the whole time, not specifically for our safety, but as a liability issue, saying that NYU doesn’t want to get sued. NYU encourages students to enforce the policy themselves; walls in university buildings are plastered with posters reading, “Report Safety Violations: email [email protected].” The university has yet to communicate the importance of booster shots, having only sent emails thus far about booster availability and eligibility requirements.

After the false hope of a maskless university once students received the first two vaccine doses, many students might not get boosters of their own accord. NYU leadership needs to get the message across promoting booster shots clearly and effectively and take responsibility for the safety of their students.

A version of this story appeared in the Nov. 22, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Jules Roscoe at [email protected]