Opinion: NYU easing the mask mandate is the right first step

NYU followed the lead of other New York City colleges by lifting masking restrictions, but they’re still staying unnecessarily cautious.

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Farheen Khan

NYU has lifted mask requirements in certain university spaces. (Photo by Farheen Khan)

Alexandra Cohen, Deputy Opinion Editor

What we all kind of expected to happen was officially announced via email from NYU Senior Leadership. NYU’s mask mandate was dropped — somewhat. Masking will still be mandatory in “obligatory” spaces like classrooms, but not in “optional” spaces like gyms, the email said. That means we still have to wear a mask almost everywhere on campus. 

[Read more: NYU drops indoor mask mandate for some locations]

This is a step in the right direction. NYU has been extremely vigilant against COVID-19, requiring students and faculty to be vaccinated and boosted and requiring mask wearing in all indoor spaces. This week, NYU had a positivity rate of 2.80% across 2,356 tests, proving that our strict guidelines did what they were supposed to do — they slowed the spread. 

While there are still positive cases on campus, the number is close to New York City’s positivity rate: 2.37% over the same week. New York City dropped the mask mandate three weeks ago for indoor spaces, with the exception of public transportation, theaters and rideshare. NYU students are already not wearing masks when they go out, so it feels redundant to force masks on campus. Columbia University eliminated its mask mandate on March 14, and the number of students there who tested positive fell after the loosening of restrictions. 

Masks must still be worn in what NYU has labeled “obligatory” spaces, like classrooms and NYU dining locations, for the first phase of their plan. While it’d be nice to get rid of mask wearing completely, this allows NYU to test the waters and see how the numbers change with the easing of restrictions. Students who are immunocompromised will not have to attend classes or club meetings with unmasked peers right away. “Optional” locations are just following suit with the rest of the city’s businesses — not much is changing. You still have to wear a mask in places that you have to be, but you don’t have to wear them in places you don’t have to be. 

Don’t get me wrong: Masks are great. Their impact has saved lives and protected the vulnerable. They were so impactful that we don’t need them anymore, at least not everywhere. I still haven’t seen the full face of any of my teachers, or most of the people that I’m only friends with in class. I won’t get to see their faces in class yet — at least not this week — but walking around campus will be a bit more reminiscent of the classic college experience.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are not the views of the Washington Square News.

Contact Alexandra Cohen at [email protected]