Ramapo becomes face covering friendly as COVID-19 turns endemic

When walking around Ramapo’s campus in recent weeks, it would be difficult to tell whether it’s 2019 or 2023. In classrooms, the library, cafeterias and other public spaces, many students, faculty and staff have foregone mask-wearing since the administration relaxed mask requirements at the start of the spring semester.

Melissa Van Der Wall, dean of students and chairperson of the Pandemic Assessment Team, announced in an email on Jan. 17 that “faculty and staff may determine their own directions/protocols for whether face coverings must be worn in their specific classrooms, learning spaces, offices, events, and meeting rooms.”

The classroom mask requirement was the final holdout of the on-campus mask mandates. With its removal, the entire campus has been deemed “face covering friendly.”

Van Der Wall explained this decision stems from the “higher levels of population immunity, milder illness, and other factors.”

The majority of students are happy to put masks behind them. According to an Instagram poll of Ramapo students conducted by The Ramapo News, 47% no longer wear face masks in public settings and 35% wear them sometimes. 83% said they feel comfortable with the administration lifting the mask requirement on campus.

Freshman Angelica Butardo explained her reasoning. “I know that there are people around me who are fully vaccinated and there are probably many people who also have the booster too,” she said.

Since most students returned to campus in Aug. 2021, campus COVID-19 cases have gone on a rollercoaster, peaking around December 2021 and January 2022. The 2022-23 school year has been more stable with the seven-day average of new cases remaining below six.

While they may be in the minority, some students continue to wear a mask around campus for safety and comfort reasons.

“I still wear a KN95 mask to class,” said senior Faith Chang in an email. “I’ve had COVID before and it was an awful experience… I would like to minimize my chances of getting it again.”

Chang accepts that not everyone feels the same as her, though. “I understand that a lot of people wanted the mask requirement lifted… I am still anxious about getting COVID because people can still come in sick without a mask but I acknowledge that the world needs to move on,” she said.

While a few professors have maintained mask requirements this semester, most have chosen to leave the decision up to the students. In the poll, 72% said their professors no longer require masks in the classroom.

Professor of sociology Erin Augis supports the change in the college’s policy. “I think it is appropriate given what we know about vaccinations and disease severity,” she said in an email. “My hope is that students will feel able to become increasingly engaged in the classroom and extracurricular activities.”

Some feel that the college’s current COVID policy isn’t doing enough to protect students, faculty and staff. “I don’t think it should be the professors who decide, I think the college should reinstate the mask mandate for all,” senior Ally Higgins said. “There are still people who are being impacted by the pandemic and COVID.”

Higgins also expressed their disdain for how Ramapo has handled the pandemic overall in the past three years. “Ramapo needed to do more,” they said. “Ramapo didn’t do a good job enforcing the mask mandate which was extremely frustrating especially right as we were coming back to campus after being online.”

Regardless of where people stand on the matter, the college feels confident in forging ahead with its plans. Van Der Wall stated that the next move will be to make COVID vaccines recommended but no longer required.

“We are now at a stage in the pandemic where we can slowly de-escalate our response and shift toward moving into an endemic phase of COVID-19,”

-Dean of Students Melissa Van Der Wall

Butardo agrees with this sentiment. “[COVID] is something that is going to stay for a while so we just have to live with it,” she said.



Photo courtesy of AnnaShvets, Pexels