By hunter Ellis and Olivia Valkner, Multimedia Managing Editor and Staff Writer
Beginning next Monday, students will no longer be required to wear masks in classrooms and other indoor spaces for the first time in nearly two years.
Xavier announced the changes to its COVID-19 policies, including lifting the mask mandate, via a campus message sent late Tuesday afternoon.
“Effective Monday, Feb. 21, masks will no longer be required in public, indoor spaces like classrooms and common areas. While masks will no longer be required indoors, all community members are welcome to continue wearing a mask,” the email read.
Jeff Coleman, chair of the COVID-19 Task Force, said that the group was comfortable recommending to remove the mask mandate due to several factors, which have been regularly monitored by the committee.
“The first thing on the agenda at every (COVID-19 Task Force) meeting is ‘How are we looking on campus?’” Coleman noted.
“We’re over 95% vaccinated…We are down to three cases: two employees and one student. We’ve been at 10 or below student and employee cases for over a week.”
The task force considered regional and national trends, the advice of consultants — including internal groups and TriHealth — and what other universities and organizations were doing.
“Given our environment, it’s a chance for higher education to lead transitioning back to kind of a near-normal environment. We took the lead going into the virus, and we think we did a great job with… keeping our students here on campus,” Coleman said.
“And we thought this is just another opportunity for us, given our numbers, to lead the way, as we transition from pandemic to endemic,” he added.
Sophomore exercise science major Elizabeth Salazar has only attended Xavier during the pandemic and offered perspective on how masks will affect personal connections with her peers.
“I believe that Xavier is heading in the right direction,” Salazar said.
“Cases have finally slowed down and there is new hope in trying to build … community on campus. Now, with the masks off, we can try and get to know our classmates and become more familiar with matching their names with their faces,” Salazar said.
On the other hand, senior nursing major Claire Fenning expressed concerns with the lifting of the mask mandate.
“Just because there are fewer cases and this surge appears to be over doesn’t mean the pandemic is. Masks aren’t used to protect the individual, they’re used to protect others and prevent the spread of illness throughout the Xavier community,” she said.
“The lifting of the mask mandate only encourages the spread of another mutation or illness and ultimately a surge in infection and COVID-19 cases. All I gotta say is this isn’t very ‘men and women for and with others’ of you, Xavier,” she added.
Coleman expressed that while individuals are free to make decisions about wearing masks based on their own personal safety concerns, he feels the time is right to step back to normalcy.
“We encourage individuals to do what they need to do to feel safe and protect themselves. However, our numbers support the move we’re making,” he said.
The mandate could be reinstated, especially if cases spike after Spring Break. Coleman noted that the decision is not dependent on a threshold.
“We didn’t want to say, ‘If we hit 50 active cases, we’re putting the mask back on.’ We didn’t have that threshold for taking the masks off, either. The task force really takes into account a number of different data points in making our decisions,” he added.
The task force does not expect a huge rise in cases at any point in the semester, though.
“We just have not seen that big of a spread. Even (at) our big basketball games like the Crosstown Shootout or the Villanova game… a lot of folks at Cintas are not wearing masks. We’ve heard a lot about that, but at the end of the day, we have not seen a large spread from any of those events. So we don’t anticipate a huge bump (in case numbers),” Coleman said.
“Students will now be required to be up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations at the start of every fall semester. Up to date means a person has received all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including any booster dose(s) when eligible,” the campus message read.
According to Coleman, the university explicitly used the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) language when stating students must remain “up to date” because this standard may change by the fall semester.
Currently, the CDC notes on their website that “booster shots are not recommended for everyone at this time.” For most non-immunocompromised individuals, “up to date” means fully inoculated and boosted.
Coleman noted that about 1,500 students have received their booster, and clinics such as the one being hosted on Feb. 25 in Arrupe will continue throughout the spring semester.
Xavier Health Services is also offering appointments for vaccines and booster shots in the Health United Building.