Mask Mandate Ends on Campus Once More: How Long Will It Last?


Devine Marcel

Dexter Health Services Medical Assistant Milly Velazquez

Devine Marcel, Staff Writer

It hasn’t even been a week in the month of March, and we have already been updated on some new changes. On Thursday, February 24, 2022, the communications office brought AIC a new Covid-19 update. Since implementing the required mandates in vaccinations and boosters, AIC now has more than a 95% vaccination rate. Furthermore, because of our courageous leaps at the vaccine needles, we are officially Mask Free! For many students like me, it’s an exciting moment to unmask and to finally see the full face of your peers and professors and compare them to the images you made up in your head. Others may see this mask lift as negative forces working against their beauty sleep, now that they must wake up thirty minutes earlier to put a full fresh face on before classes. Overall, any news that provides rewards for prioritizing the safety of our students and faculty is great news.

However, many seem to question whether this mask lift was presented a little early, considering that students are going on spring break next week. Spring break is notorious for encouraging college students to surround themselves in crowds as they soak in the sun and celebrating the halfway point in their semester. It’s been suggested that a return from spring break could mean that the mask lift will be short-lived. Could it be?

The James J. Shea Library on the campus of AIC, where the mask mandate has been lifted for all fully-vaccinated people. (Devine Marcel)

I had the opportunity to meet with some staff and faculty on AIC campus and get their opinion on the mask lift and the preparation details behind it. In an interview with Public Health Director Dr. Frederick Hooven, he shared that the mask lift was no surprise. Since the city of Springfield lifted their mask mandate, Hooven expected the school would soon follow suit. Although he didn’t anticipate that it would be so soon, like many faculty and staff, he expected it to come after break. Despite the timing of the end to the mask mandate, students and staff on campus do have the choice to continue to wear masks.

Dr. Hooven also recommended taking the necessary precautions when stepping out, especially if it’s without a mask. He encouraged students to do their research: “Look up the number of cases in the designated area, [and] think about people you know that you’re getting together with in these crowded settings. Is the ventilation good?  Are you spending a long period of time [with] people?” Overall, Dr. Hooven said that he is not opposed to the lifting of the mask mandate, but he still encourages caution. “As long as the prevalence stays low, we will begin to see more and more mask lifts set in place.”

Associate Public Health Professor Dr. Dayna Campbell provided another expert opinion on the end of the mask mandate. When asked if she agreed or disagreed with the mask lift, Dr. Campbell expressed disapproval and said it was “rushed too soon.” Even though cases and hospital rates have dropped, she encourages individuals to let it level out.  Spring break has been a big concern for some students during this mask lift, and there has been much speculation that positive cases of COVID-19 would likely go up after that week. Of course, situations like this are difficult to predict. However, in our interview, Dr. Campbell commented “that we could’ve waited a few more weeks.”

The need for normalcy could likely ruin chances of future events like graduation if cases rise. Dr. Campbell’s view isn’t aimed to threaten the freedom we are all longing for, but it seems to target a pattern we have developed in the last two years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Massachusetts, the recent week update shows that an average of 2,000 people are still dying every day from Covid-19. Over time, when cases begin to drop, there will be been some leniency with protective and preventative measures, and that’s where the concerns follow.

Dr. Campbell closed our interview with a few encouraging words for readers: “Don’t be reckless. Practice prevention. If anything, Covid-19 taught us how important it is for us to operate in ways we should’ve, like washing our hands.”

The mask mandate was useful in other ways beside protecting campus workers and residents against the spread of the virus. During the winter weather in New England (in combinations with warm breath) masks doubled as face warmers. However, running up three flights of stairs in the Amaron classroom building with your mask on because you’re late to class made breathing difficult.

Regardless of whether you are excited or cautious about the end of the mandate, the time has come to lift the mask mandate once again. Although there may be some concerns post-spring break, AIC’s pandemic planning committee will take the proper measures to ensure our safety if cases change. Right now, positive cases are dropping, prevalence remains low, and vaccination and booster rates are rising. Dexter Health Services Medical Assistant Milly Velazquez said, “Even though our school is private, we follow the Department of Public Health, … the governor, and other city officials.” If the governor and city officials feel that Massachusetts residents are doing well enough in limiting the spread of the virus to remove the mask mandate, AIC will follow.

Dexter Health Services Medical Assistant Milly Velazquez (Devine Marcel)

On a positive note, an end of the mask mandate means that we get to see faces again, without the uncomfortable stares. Sociology professor Dr. Cheryl Braxton shared how insightful things have been during the first week without a mask. She said, “It’s nice to see faces and make connections. It has made teaching easier this week reading the facial expressions and cues.” Let this be a reminder that none of this would have happened if we didn’t do our due diligence to ensure the safety for ourselves and for others.

Sociology professor Dr. Cheryl Braxton (Devine Marcel)