Say goodbye to the University of Miami’s COVID-19 emails updating us on masks, symptom checkers and positive tests. For the first time in two years, the days of mask fishing are behind us. It’s time to see each other face-to-face. But what exactly does this policy update mean for students?
After almost two years, University of Miami students are breathing freely—and maybe checking their emails a little less. On March 1, 2022, the university announced that masks are no longer required anywhere on campus.
Just six weeks after UM’s first COVID-19 advisory, dated January 27, 2020, read “We do not believe there is any immediate health risk to our campuses,” in-person classes were suspended. On June 5 of that summer, a mask mandate and testing policies were introduced via email to faculty and staff.
The following fall 2020 semester was an uncertain time on campus. There were curfews, testing requirements and severe punishments for partying and crowding. Remember that TikTok a freshman took in their dorm room that went viral?
By spring 2021, despite all of the precautions, the university was still seeing as many as 139 positive cases after only one week of classes. And several fraternities were suspended.
However, toward the end of the semester, the tides began to turn with the introduction of vaccines. Even as Delta became a dominant variant in Miami, the university dropped its outdoor mask policy on October 1, 2021.
In 2022, we have seen the remaining reminders of the pandemic begin to disappear before our eyes. Gone are the daily symptom checkers, the wristbands and the uniformed employees enforcing them. No longer do we trek to the Pavia Garage to get tested and spend the afternoon waiting for the results.
The end of the mask mandate was an anticipated milestone this semester, yet it was met with mixed emotions. While some members of the campus community were excited and relieved, others voiced concern that students might be succumbing to “COVID-19 fatigue” and that university officials are acting too soon.
“Part of me thinks it probably would have been best to wait until we were considered ‘low risk’ to make masks optional,” said UM sophomore and broadcast journalism major Kiera Wright. “But, then again, most students on
this campus already don’t wear a mask anyway, so the other part of me thinks that not having to wear a mask in classrooms probably isn’t making much of a difference.”
Still, some members of the population choose to continue wearing masks, even if it isn’t the most comfortable thing to do. Stephen Halsey, an associate professor in UM’s history department, expressed his frustration with wearing masks during his lectures that can run longer than an hour.
“I have to yell into the mask, my glasses steam up, it’s extremely unpleasant in all effects,” Halsey said. “Lecturing, in particular, is a challenge with the mask.”
Despite these grievances, he continues to wear a mask in an abundance of caution. He also said he believes that the administration has made prudent decisions throughout the pandemic.
“Students and faculty have handled these challenges quite well,” Halsey said. “I think the key was mutual understanding. All parties did better than anyone could’ve hoped.”
Many students who have elected to stop wearing masks acknowledge that safety is still the primary concern. Because of this, they don’t view the issue as a binary decision between always wearing or never wearing a mask.
“I do think it’s safe, but it’s still a risk,” said UM senior advertising management major Mariana Bolognani. “For example, if I’m not sick, then I don’t need to wear a mask. But if someone is sick or is even showing symptoms, they should definitely wear a mask. It’s just basic consideration for others.”
Even in the face of increased risk, the campus and classrooms seem energized by the absence of masks. Lauren Lotenfoe, a sustainable business graduate student and employee at the campus bookstore, acknowledged that she was slightly concerned, but overall happy with the removal of the mandate.
“After two years of wearing a mask, it’s just nice to actually see people’s faces,” she said.
The lifted mask mandate is grounds for cautious optimism that the end of the pandemic is near, but we may need to be careful not to allow optimism to lead to recklessness. Those who are immunocompromised, have immunocompromised household members or have children that are unvaccinated should continue to wear a mask, per CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines. Dr. Roy Weiss, chief medical officer for COVID-19 at UM, addressed the easing of mask mandates in his weekly newsletter on March 4.
“Even though masks are now optional, it is important to remember that they continue to be a very effective tool to prevent COVID-19 infection. Certain people should continue masking, so we should be sensitive to those who choose to do so,” Weiss said.
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