Ramapo lifts mask mandates in face of CDC guidelines and new variant

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College, Flickr.

Ramapo College announced on March 25 in an email to all students that the administration will be relaxing its mandatory mask policy effective Monday, March 28, one week after returning from spring break.

The decision stems from an earlier message sent on March 3, explaining that the date was “anticipated” for the campus to be “mask friendly,” and not require students to wear masks throughout certain areas of campus. 

“We believe this date provides us an opportunity to ensure that we are accounting for the potential impact of COVID-19 as a result of travel during Spring Break,” wrote Melissa Van Der Wall, dean of students and chairperson of the school’s Pandemic Assessment Team. In an email sent on March 9, Van Der Wall encouraged all students to submit to the college’s Travel Registry in the event that they vacation during spring break.

With the mask mandate on campus being lifted and students given the choice of wearing them or not, there is still a mix of opinions about how student life will be affected in the coming weeks.  

“I think that it is a great step for our college and a great step towards some normalcy for everyone,” said Lexi Gray, a junior social work major. “However, I think that the effect it will have on the college is the disagreements between students and staff members who agree and disagree with it being lifted and individuals who are choosing to still wear a mask.”

Students will be required to wear a face covering in classrooms, as well as in “high occupancy settings,” while faculty and staff “may determine their own direction for their office and meeting spaces in terms of whether or not to require face coverings.”

The mandate removal comes just three weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the statewide mask protocols for New Jersey schools and daycare centers on March 7. Since then, cases were on decline, but have increased over the last two weeks by 2%. 

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines for communities to recover from the pandemic while also helping them adjust to a form of normalcy. Instead of relying only on the number of cases in a community, the CDC now takes into account hospitalizations in the past week, percentage of beds occupied by Covid patients and new cases per 100,000 people. 

Based on these new guidelines, the CDC also announced that “70 percent of Americans can now stop wearing masks, and no longer need to social distance or avoid crowded indoor spaces.”

However, the newest strain of Covid — BA.2, a subvariant of Omicron — has begun to take a toll on New Jersey. On March 19, BA.2 accounted for 52% of all strains in Covid cases, which was up 39% from the previous week, according to the CDC. On March 18, Gov. Murphy announced that although cases are expected to rise, he will not be reinstating any public guidelines for the time being. 

Some students, like junior business major Brandon Hemmer, find this decision to be the most appropriate.

“I am definitely in support of it. It’s time that we adapt to normal life again,” said Hemmer. “I think the college will carry it out for the semester, but I feel like next semester we should be fully without any restrictions, and I think the college also acknowledges that they want things as normal as possible.”

The college also included in their most recent email that they intend to “convert” the entire campus to mask-friendly by the beginning of the 2022 Summer Session, May 16, as it will continue to monitor the CDC’s “community tracker tool.” 

Regardless of students' reactions, the school vows to continue to follow and mirror the actions taken by Bergen County and the CDC. 

“As we now shift to a face-covering friendly posture,” President Cindy Jebb wrote in response to an email. “I would expect that we would continue to engage with one another with dignity, respect, and empathy and be a national exemplar as a Ramapo community."