Editorial—Masking changes on campus

North Wind Staff

As we are all aware, mask regulations recently changed on campus. While previously masks were required in all campus buildings except in private offices and dorms, masks are now only required in classrooms and labs (as well as in select offices and the health center).

This change came as a surprise to many of us. We learned of the change when the president’s office sent out a campus-wide email laying out these new protocols on Monday, March 7, shortly after our return from mid-semester break.

Of course, everyone is extremely tired of wearing masks and we’ve all craved seeing each other’s faces during the last two years. In fact, many of us have only known a college experience defined by the pandemic — some of us have never seen our classmates’ full faces at all. Despite the excitement that might come along with a reduction in masking, as with any COVID-related policy change, there are many concerns to take into account.

First, it is strange to not wear masks in crowded hallways, yet be required to wear masks in classrooms. The distinction between the two environments is arbitrary, and it feels as though the university is attempting to implement COVID precautions halfway, without much regard for which situations or locations pose risks. But health precautions aren’t something we can reasonably do halfway. They’re always important, especially for our most vulnerable peers, those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk due to COVID.

Additionally, perhaps it was unwise to unmask so soon after break without waiting to see how many people brought COVID with them back from their vacations. Many people traveled to areas with high infection rates. It might have been a better choice to wait at least two weeks after the end of break to make such a decision regarding masks.

It seems this might have been more a political decision than one based on an interest in public health and safety. Although cases of COVID in Marquette and on-campus are fairly low, there is still the threat of increase, new variants are emerging and we must keep in mind our limited medical infrastructure in the U.P.

It also seems that by loosening COVID guidelines, health and safety regulators such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are beginning to listen to pressure from the public rather than objectively assess risks. Of course, we’re all tired of wearing masks, and many of us feel some relief due to the reduced mask rules, it’s hard not to think about what will likely happen if another round of high-risk infections comes around. We’ll have to try to persuade ourselves and our community to return to full safety measures, and it will be harder than ever.

As the president’s office reminded us in their most recent (March 16) campus-wide email, “We should all be ready to pivot back to more restrictive mask wearing if needed; however we remain hopeful that we’ll get through the semester using our current masking protocols and following other mitigation procedures as aforementioned. We all want to meet our goal of keeping our cases low, staying healthy and having an in-person finals week and commencement ceremony.”

Will a campus community that has gotten used to the relative luxury of loose mask protocols be willing to perform such a pivot if necessary? We will likely find out in the next few months.