On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Now that more than two years have passed since the start of the pandemic, things look a little different.
Since the coronavirus first hit the United States, students have endured years of quarantine and mask-wearing. At the University of Massachusetts, students have been heavily impacted by these global health precautions. Just weeks before the spring semester, students were informed that the University was suggesting double masking and wearing KN95. Then, in an email to the campus community on March 8, the University informed students that “effective Wednesday, March 9 at 7 a.m., campus will be lifting its indoor mask requirement.”
UMass was behind other universities and entities in lifting its mandate; The statewide mask lifter for K-12 schools was released Feb. 28 by Gov. Charlie Baker. UMass Lowell followed Baker’s issue and by March 11, the towns of Amherst and Northampton had mostly lifted theirs.
The town of Hadley survey its indoor mask mandate in public spaces on March 1. Public and private primary and secondary schools in the city, however, required masks until March 7.
For those who are not yet fully vaccinated — which amounts to a full vaccination sequence and a booster — the mask mandate is still in effect at UMass. In some settings, such as at the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and in health care facilities, all people, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a face covering.
“More people are okay with not having to wear them,” said Pablo Quiceno, a junior communications and journalism student and PVTA employee. “A lot of people here are friends, they see each other all the time. But people are nervous about taking it off while they’re at work.
Quiceno said he was “a little more forgiving, but some people [who work for the PVTA] are stricter.
When it comes to the PVTA, there are a few obstacles, such as passengers who often don’t take the bus and may forget to put on a mask.
“Route 33 to Puffers Pond that I know has a lot of non-students, so they might be more likely to be unaware,” Quiceno said. “Or, there are freshmen who may not know because they’ve never taken the buses before.”
Quiceno thinks the summer would be a good time to drop the PVTA mask mandate, given his reduced duty this season.
Transferring from UMass Dartmouth in the spring of 2020, Quiceno began working for UMass transit in January 2021.
“At that point I was used to wearing masks, but now looking back it’s kind of crazy how I would wear a mask more than I wouldn’t most days,” Quiceno recalls . “When it comes to two years now with masks, it’s obviously interesting to think about that too, but I’m glad we’re getting to the point where masks are no longer a part of our daily lives like they used to be. to be.”
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, it is recommended that “people who are unvaccinated, or who have certain health conditions or weakened immune systems, or who live with people at higher risk, wear masks when they are share interior spaces with other people. away from home. »
This suggestion from the Department of Health relates to university faculty, another group heavily affected in the past two years. The March 8 UMass email drew particular attention to the failure of individual professors, professors and departments to “enforce regulations” on the waived mandate.
Some students have taken to Reddit, a social media platform, expressing their frustration over it.
As staff at on-campus health facilities, staff at University Health Services and the Center for Public Health Promotion should also continue to wear masks.
Senior Public Health Major Rylee Reed, who works at the Center for Public Health Promotion, thinks the University’s decision to lift the mask mandate was “brutal”. Reed works at PHPC’s Isolation and Quarantine Unit.
“I discovered [about the lifted mandate] along with all the students, which I found odd since I work at Thatcher, which is closely tied to PHPC. I also heard that the professors weren’t consulted in this decision, so a lot of them are upset,” Reed said.
“Even though it follows the mandates of surrounding towns, I think it would have been wise to see how the cases were after the students returned from spring break,” Reed continued.
Reed, whose employment contract with PHPC ends in May, said it looks like isolation and other COVID-10 restrictions will end after this spring semester. Reed described the two-year period of COVID-19 as feeling “surreal that it seems to be coming to an end.”
“I think most of the precautions were needed to be sent home and everything, but it’s nice to see life back to normal,” Reed added.
Although individual departments and faculties are unable to set their own rules, the University “encourages people to continue wearing masks if they wish.”
Ning Zhang, assistant professor of health policy and management, was surprised by the trend among the students, but not by the timing of the decision.
“Many students I’ve heard are choosing to continue wearing a mask,” Zhang said, adding that there should be different regulations for different departments.
“Arnold House, the public health building on campus, has poor ventilation and is an older building,” Zhang explained. “There must be variations. For professors with chronic illnesses, masks should continue to be mandatory, but as expected, there may be tension between professors and students. »
Junior public health student Rebecca Hunt explained that she continues to wear a mask. “I absolutely wear my KF94 and KN95. A few of my family members are immunocompromised and I never want to bring anything to them,” she said.
Hunt also noted that it was “irresponsible” for UMass to lift the mandate just before spring break and after “Blarney” weekend.
Since April 4, Amherst College had update their mask requirements. “Amherst remains a mask-friendly community and all members of the community must have a KN95 mask with them at all times,” the website states.
Another member of the Five-College Consortium, Smith College, also lifted its mandate from April 4. According to the CDC, Hampshire County is now took into consideration a county with low COVID-19 at the community level.
Sarah Bailan, an English and Spanish junior double major, works at the recreation center as a fitness instructor where she teaches barre lessons.
“I’m so relieved. It was such a difficult part of my job to do it with the mic, with the mask. I feel like I can connect with the attendees so much better and if I can see their faces, I can remember them so much better,” Bailan said.
However, Bailan has different feelings when it comes to wearing a mask as a student versus a fitness instructor.
“As a general student, I think it’s super random that they did this at the moment. Why right after Blarney? Why right before the break? Bailan questioned.
On the weekend of March 5, the annual meeting led by students sales pitch the party took place. Many UMass students across Amherst attended these festivities celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
“I’m fine health-wise, but in the classes I attended, no one wore a mask,” Bailan added. “I think people are worried about it and it really didn’t need to happen now. I might feel weird if everyone is wearing a mask and not me.
Reflecting on the pandemic over the past two years, Bailan said there was a big difference between experiencing the pandemic at 18 and now at 20.
“I’ve changed a lot, and I feel like everyone and everything has changed a lot since then. The time before March 2020 seems a long way off, but at the same time, this time of year reminds me to go back to home, walking around a lot with my mom and doing homeschooling virtually,” Bailan added.
Another student, Clare Sheedy, is a double major in public health and gender and women’s sexuality studies. Sheedy expressed similar confusion about why the University chose the week before spring break to lift the mask mandate.
“We went from the University imposing KN95, N95 or double masking, to no masks? It’s no secret that there was just one of the biggest parties of the semester last weekend, where people came from other places,” Sheedy explained.
“It’s also really weird that we’re having spring break this year. It’s weird that as a first-half senior it’s actually my first time,” Sheedy said of the two-year-old. pandemic.
While students such as Bailan and Sheedy were shocked by the timing of the decision, Zhang felt the opposite.
“It was no surprise to me, since Governor Baker had announced two weeks prior that K-12 was complete,” she said. “But I wonder if it’s not a bit too fast. UMass is a big community, not like small schools. We know the virus is still here and will co-exist with us for many years.
On Thursday, March 10, the Amherst Board of Health held a public meeting where Public Health Director Jennifer Brown said COVID-19 cases were the “lowest since late December.” She also noted that there were “a lot of students still wearing masks.”
Amherst officially lifted its indoor mask mandate the same day.
Olivia Capriotti can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @CapriottiOlivia.