Gatepost Editorial: Maintain the mandate

As we approach spring break, our community must not forget the enormous impact COVID-19 continues to have on our community.

Yesterday, in a campus-wide email, President F. Javier Cevallos announced an amendment to current COVID-19 protocols due to “improved community conditions.”

According to Cevallos, “The campus will transition to a mask-optional environment” beginning March 6, except for certain locations specified in the email such as classrooms, the Health Center, and the Ram Tram.

Though considering amending current COVID-19 protocols is understandable, administrators should not lift the mask mandate while the semester is in progress. 

Lifting the mandate would not only risk the safety of students, but that of all members of our community. 

According to the CDC, Framingham is currently categorized as a “low-risk” community for COVID-19 transmission, meaning the use of masks is recommended based on personal preference. 

In the email, Cevallos predicts a transition to more flexibility in the mask mandate beginning April 2, just a couple of weeks after spring break. 

By downgrading the current mask mandate so soon after spring break, the administration risks exposing our community to a rise in COVID-19 cases due to spring break travel and other variables. 

The mandate is a safety net protecting not only the lives of students and employees, but also their families and the people they come in contact with outside the University. 

Masks have proven successful in limiting exposure to COVID-19 and maintaining low positivity rates. 

FSU isn’t an isolated bubble. It is celebrated as an open campus and is a part of the City of Framingham. 

Not only will many students be traveling long distances over spring break, but they will continue to make trips to their homes on a regular basis when they return.

Commuters, of course, travel back and forth from their hometowns every day.

Professors and other employees will continue to go home to their families every night. 

While administrators may be hopeful there won’t be a rise in cases after spring break, the likelihood of community members contracting COVID-19 during spring break remains a distinct possibility. 

Even though all resident students will be tested for COVID-19 when they return from break, commuter students will not be required to test. Positive cases may go undetected among asymptomatic commuter students who are just as likely to travel during the break.

We cannot risk the safety of our community so soon. Though modifying current protocols to establish a “new normal” may be justified based upon scientific evidence, we must remain vigilant. 

While COVID-19 cases appear to be declining, we have not yet reached a safe threshold to ease mask and testing requirements. 

According to The New York Times, there were 1,302 new COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts March 1. By comparison, there were 2,037 new cases in the state Sept. 1.

There’s still over a thousand new cases per day – conditions similar to the start of the fall 2021 semester. If wearing masks and regular testing were important in September, they should still be important now.

If the mandate is removed too soon, students who come in contact with young children and family members who are immunocompromised will be fearful about attending their in-person classes.

If the mandate is removed too soon, our community members will become more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, especially individuals with weakened immune systems, underlying conditions, or those who are not yet eligible to receive a booster. 

Every student attending in-person classes must enter a classroom. Every professor teaching an in-person class must enter one, too. Mask mandates must stay for these essential learning spaces.

By maintaining the mask mandate until the end of the spring semester, students will be able to work out accommodations over the summer for the fall semester instead of hastily arranging them weeks before the end of this one.

The pandemic is not over. We can’t drop our guard – and our masks – until the risk of spreading COVID-19 to our peers and loved ones is under control.