On Feb. 14 President Mark Nemec Ph.D. emailed students stating that Fairfield University COVID-19 levels in the “region had fallen to a manageable level.” Additionally, he stated that Fairfield has “achieved and maintained a vaccination and booster rate that is higher than that of the general population in our area.”

Because of this, effective as of Feb. 28, the University will shift from an indoor mask mandate to an indoor mask recommendation.

In specific classroom situations, Nemec states that the Provost office will “have discussions with faculty and staff regarding masking as warranted in certain classroom settings or at certain events.” 

Additionally, the University will continue to “maintain a modified testing program for those in our campus community who are unvaccinated” and “isolation and quarantine processes in place for when they are needed.” 

The news of the mandate has caused mixed reactions from students regarding the change to be put in place. 

Sophomore Carina Kortick relays her feelings that,  “it will be strange to go to class without a mask on since this is the first time since 2020, but I am looking forward to returning to a state of normal.” 

Additionally, Sophomore Brenna Kennedy states  “I am scared to take off my mask and forget to sensor my facial expression because for so long they were concealed but I do feel like releasing the mask mandate is a good idea and congruent with the state of [Connecticut’s] recommendations” 

Sophomore Nicholas DiStefano states, “I think this is a good opportunity to get back to life before COVID. I can’t wait, I’m really excited.”

Junior Carly Manzi feels as though “it’s interesting considering I haven’t heard of other schools doing this.” 

She says that while she will probably participate in it while at the gym, if her professors require them individually she will respect their decisions. 

Manzi also states her worry that the new protocol “may lead to more outbreaks in the future.” 

Another concern of hers is related to her job at Leslie C. Quick, Jr. RecPlex. 

“I think President Nemec sent the email too early and some people will not understand why they have to wear masks now but not in a week,” Manzi said. “[Students] have the attitude like ‘Oh, we’re not going to have to wear them anyway so who cares’ but that makes it difficult on faculty and staff of the University who have to uphold the current guidelines.” 

Junior Claire Bellucci, a Public Health major, shares similar sentiment to Manzi and stated, “I am surprised they lifted the mask mandate due to the large number of cases we started off with this semester.”

With regards to whether or not Belluci will participate in the mask recommendation she states, “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. Do I think students will enjoy the mask mandate being lifted? Yes. Do I think this is a safe choice? No.”

Belluci also relayed her belief of what should go on in the classroom and that “professors should be able to decide whether or not masks are required in their classrooms, not administration who do not have to sit in a packed classroom and have their health at possible risk, not to mention their families’ health and well-being if they bring COVID home with them.” 

Senior Ellie Galligan added that, “A lot of professors are older and at risk, there are also immunocompromised professors and students who could be negatively affected by this.

Also I don’t feel like they took student input for this decision because it came out of nowhere.”

She continued, “I think they announced it too early, and if there is a bad spike in covid cases within the next two weeks it might have to change and then there will probably be people who are angry.”

The Mirror also reached out to Professor of Sociology & Anthropology and President of the Fairfield chapter of the American Association of University Professors, David Crawford Ph.D, to get a perspective on the mask recommendation from a faculty point of view.

With regards to the announcement, Crawford states “as far as I know, professors were not consulted on this.”

He then urged that The Mirror should reach out to the Public Health Advisory Committee to see if they were consulted. 

“If this is not their recommendation, then the question is why our President ignores the committee he set up to give him advice on public health measures,” Crawford said.  

The Mirror then reached out to members of the Public Health Advisory Team to ask if they were involved in the discussion.

Public Health Advisory Team member and Assistant Professor of Public Health, Kimberly Doughty, Ph.D. stated that though the team discussed the possibility of a two-week “mask optional trial” beginning on Feb. 28, it was decided that more data regarding infection rate trends and vaccination status was needed before deciding. 

“I believe this policy change needed to happen eventually,” Doughty stated, “But I think this decision was a bit premature and I am disappointed that the administration made it without waiting for the Public Health Advisory Team to endorse the plan.

She also stated that she hasn’t yet decided what she will do in her own classroom. 

Crawford stated that “as for classroom policy, anything that impacts pedagogy is rightfully the domain of professors.”

He emphasizes that professors “have to assess the vulnerabilities of our students and create a classroom environment that is safe and respectful so that people can learn.  In my view, this may include wearing masks so long as the CDC advises it.”

Another member of the Public Health Advisory Team, Chair & Professor of the Biology Department Shelley Phelan Ph.D stated that, “Our public health advisory team had begun discussions just in the last two weeks regarding possible modifications to the university’s mask policy. No decision had yet been made by our group, and many factors were still being considered and discussed. We were not made aware of the President’s decision on this topic, or the announcement on Monday.”

She states that their group will meet again on Thursday Feb. 17 and The Mirror will continue to update on the matter as more information becomes available.

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