Since the start of the semester, masks have been required at all times in indoor spaces at Fairfield University after the decision was made by the town of Fairfield to temporarily re-institute the policy on Aug. 23, 2021. This decision was made after Fairfield County was moved into the “high transmission” category by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 82 hospitalizations within the county.
This decision came after a summer of emails from the university stating that masks wouldn’t be required for vaccinated students, but would be for those unvaccinated.
On June 10, 2021, the Fairfield University Student Association sent an email to students stating that an incentive of getting the vaccine would be “…not having to wear a mask anymore…”
In July of 2021, the Dean of Students office sent an email to the student body stating that in a return on campus, masks would be optional to vaccinated students, but unvaccinated students “must wear a mask indoors.”
On Aug. 6 of 2021, this policy was reiterated in an email regarding move-in protocols. “At this time, for students and guests who are fully vaccinated, masks are not required but highly encouraged” the Office of Residence Life stated.
But, with COVID-19 cases decreasing towards the end of September, the indoor mask mandate was lifted in the Town of Fairfield on Oct. 1. The Mirror reported that despite the town’s decision, the University would maintain the indoor mask mandate, but monitor the situation daily and would adjust if necessary.
Since then, there have been rumors circulating about whether or not the University would lift the mandate with positivity numbers lowering to zero. In early November, The Mirror reported the low case numbers leading into Thanksgiving Break.
Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Anderson stated at the time, “We will continue to evolve and plan as needed to adapt to the ambient environment, and are pleased to share that our current case count is at zero.”
Since then students have been voicing their concerns about lifting the mask mandate and the low amount of mask-wearing happening on campus.
Junior Madeline Hossler stated, “I think the further we get into this year the more relaxed people have become about restrictions despite the fact that arguably circumstances are getting worse.”
Hossler adds that “The pandemic is still evolving, and especially with emerging variants we don’t fully understand and cases on the rise on campus now is exactly the wrong time to intentionally be making students more vulnerable.”
“I think masks are important because we do not understand the effect of vaccines on the new variants, but I do not think students are following the mask policy so it will be difficult for the University to find ways to enforce the mask mandate,” added Connor Padover ‘24.
Junior Megan Murphy stated that “Out of consideration for our professors and their families, I believe that it is important that in the classroom students and faculty continue to wear masks.”
“From my own experience,” she added, “It seems that the majority of students abide by this policy. However, in all other facilities on campus, there seems to be an even split of students who do or do not wear a mask.”
Senior Chelsea Gabriel stated that, “To a degree, I think masks are still needed on campus” to slow the spread of all diseases, but she added that, “I think it’s up to the discretion of each person.”
Gabriel adds that students have been acting as if the policy is up to the discretion of each student anyways and, “I think if you want to wear one, you should wear it. If you don’t want to wear one, then don’t, but you must practice proper hygiene etiquette, which is something most Americans don’t [do].”
Some students have stated that they wish for the mask policy to be lifted on campus.
First-Year student, Alexandra Riggi added that, “I feel as though students at Fairfield have been following the mask policy whether it be in class or inside buildings. Students have been respectful of the regulations and cases at the University have remained very low.”
She continued, “I personally think masks are not needed on campus anymore and would love to see the campus return back to normal!”
Junior Stephanie Rodgers seemed to disagree with Riggi, “Yes, masks are definitely still needed on-campus. There’s a new variant and it sucks for everybody, but they’re still a necessity.”
Rodgers spoke to the low number of students seen around campus wearing masks.
“You go all over campus and [virtually] no one wears it indoors until they’re yelled at to do so,” she said.
Senior Elena Galligan agreed that there’s been a lack of students following the indoor mask mandate. “I think there’s a lot of people who are just not wearing masks and getting away with it.”
Galligan adds that it’s not just an issue in the Barone Campus Center, but also in classes and around academic buildings.
“There’s not really people enforcing [the mask mandate] but there shouldn’t have to be…people should care about wearing masks.” She said, continuing, “Especially with another new variant of Covid which can affect anyone, including vaccinated people.”
The faculty on staff seem to agree with the student sentiment.
When David Crawford Ph.D., professor in the department of anthropology and sociology and President of the Fairfield Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, was asked if the mask policy should be kept in place, he stated that as an anthropologist, he couldn’t speak on it.
“I think we should listen to the experts, so if the CDC and our own Public Health Advisory Team say that we should be wearing masks, then we should be wearing masks.” He states, continuing, “It is horrifically arrogant of anyone without expertise to be making public health decisions that contradict the experts.”
When asked if he’s had any issues in classes with students wearing masks he says he has not and that, “I know everyone hates masks and I really appreciate students following the rules and not forcing me to play cop.”
“The rules are hard for me, too,” Crawford adds, “We all have to work together.”
He continues that though some of the administrators are taking the pandemic seriously, “Some are deliberately politicizing it for reasons I cannot understand.”
The Mirror reached out to Anderson regarding whether or not the University is planning on lifting the mandate, and if so, how this decision would impact unvaccinated students, and if professors will use the honor system regarding vaccination status since unvaccinated students’ names aren’t provided to them, if the AAUP and other staff supportive of this decision, and how the University was planning on monitoring whether or not the unvaccinated students continue to wear masks in public spaces.
Anderson stated in response to the questions, “Fairfield will continue to make policy and process changes based on CDC guidance, state and local policy, and university data, and will communicate any changes for [the] spring semester at that time.”