University relaxes masking policy; instructors to set individual requirements

Jaxon White, News Section Co-Editor

According to an email from President John Bravman on March 10, the University plans on updating its masking policy on March 26. 

This Saturday, the University plans to update the mandate so that masks will no longer be required in indoor public spaces across campus – a policy change consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the risk level of Union County. University employees can nevertheless require masks to be worn in classrooms, laboratories, work spaces or office spaces. 

The email included a warning for students for the few weeks leading up to the ruling:

While we are all eager for a break from masks, I want to underscore the fact that the current requirements will remain in place until March 26. In particular, masks must continue to be worn in all classrooms, labs and academic spaces during the week after spring break,” President Bravman said in the March 10 email.

The email said that this update will only happen if Union County is rated low or medium risk by the CDC. According to the CDC’s U.S. COVID-19 Community Levels by County Map, Union County is currently rated “Low Risk” for COVID-19 frequency. 

According to the email, instructors are permitted to ask students to leave the area if the student is asked to mask and refuses. All instructors are expected to let students know their decision on masking requirements in their spaces after March 26. 

“I want to stress that no matter which guidelines are in place, everyone retains the personal choice to mask, in any situation on campus — or, in my opinion, anywhere. Many members of our community will want or need to continue to wear masks. We expect that they will be treated with the utmost respect. If you are more comfortable continuing to wear a mask in public spaces at Bucknell, by all means continue to do so,” President Bravman said.

Some students seem to be looking forward to the change.

“I’m excited to not have to wear my mask around campus,” said Siobhan O’Sullivan ‘24, a History and Russian dual-major. “I’m hoping that numbers stay down so that everyone on campus is comfortable with the new rules.” 

Some others added that it is a shift in the right direction to go back to the way campus was pre-COVID.  The first-year class especially seems to want the policy updated. 

“I feel like it’ll be nice to return to relative normalcy,” said Angelo Regec ‘25, a Mechanical Engineering major. “It will be interesting to see how many professors still require masks.  I’m very excited for the plan to be implemented.” 

Biology Professor Ken Field said that he decided that his classes will be required to mask for the week after March 26, but if cases are low in the following week he will reconsider. His decision was not made lightly. 

After conducting an anonymous survey with his students, he learned that roughly 10–15% of his students in his biology classes are not comfortable with having masks optional while in class and nearly half of his students plan on wearing a mask anyway. 

I think it is important to recognize that each individual has a different level of risk from COVID exposure and also a different tolerance for that risk. I told my students that I would be masking until I saw evidence that case rates were low on campus, based both on the testing positivity rate and the waste-water monitoring.

Students are weighing their own tolerance for risk and balancing that against their personal health, mental health, and learning engagement,” he continued. “Unfortunately there is no single solution that will apply to all of our students or classes.”

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