Fairfield University has followed COVID-19 protocols fairly successfully over the past two years and has yet to let our community down. 

When positive cases increased in the heart of the pandemic, the University initiated lockdowns, when large groups of first years tried to mingle in the quad, the University employed G Force to mitigate the crowds and when vaccines and boosters became available, clinics were set up right on campus and highly encouraged for students and faculty. 

As reported COVID-19 positive cases have remained low on campus, signified by the University remaining in the green campus COVID-19 alert level, it seems acceptable that the University has decided to no longer mandate masks, effective Feb. 28. 

An email was sent out by the Office of the President on Feb. 14 to all students and faculty, stating that following Governor Lamont’s “rescinding of mask mandates,” the University will soon be dropping its mandate.

President Mark R. Nemec, Ph. D. ends the email by saying, “I ask you all to join me in the hope that we have been through the worst of it, and in the recognition that we have come through stronger than ever.”

He goes on to extend his confidence in the University to “respond and adapt with clarity and as needed,” recognizing that the University is open to making any necessary changes in the future, as it has done all along. 

As a University who has diligently followed COVID-19 safety protocols for the overall health of its community, I trust this is the right decision.

As with most any decision in life, however, there will always be people who disagree. Especially with a pandemic of this stature that we have all had to face, no matter when restrictions begin to lift there will be people afraid and uncomfortable.

We have had these restrictions in place for nearly two years and masks especially have become the new normal. Many of us can’t remember attending class without one and just as we were forced into what was uncomfortable back then (mask wearing, social distancing, etc.), we are now emerging into another uncomfortable transition of dropping such restrictions that we have grown so accustomed to.  

One of the reasons that this is very difficult is that a new level of understanding and adapting for individuals, which did not previously exist before COVID-19, has been established over the past two years. What makes this challenging is that this cannot last forever and as we begin to now gradually transition out of restrictions, many individuals want to hold on to accommodations that may no longer be practical. 

As a young and overall healthy student, I am in a much different position than other members of our community. I am not ignorant of the fact that other students and faculty may have good reason to remain uncomfortable and resistant to the University’s measures in dropping its mask mandate. 

It’s all a complex array of conflicts and I imagine it’s up to the University to distinguish between whether a high level of understanding should remain and when risks are low enough that this level begins to diminish. 

I know nobody wants to hear this but as the severity of COVID-19 continues to decline in the face of new technologies, and accessibility rises for vaccine and booster shots, an understanding for those who remain afraid will also begin to lessen. 

Not to tie this to the University at all. It is stated in the same email as mentioned prior that the Provost’s Office “will have discussions with faculty and staff regarding masking as warranted in certain classroom settings or at certain events.”

But as a general and broad notion, understanding is not going to last as long as some may hope. There will be many forced into the uncomfortable transition of dropping COVID-19 restrictions, and this is merely life. 

Everything comes with certain risks and we as humans mitigate and weigh those risks constantly. As loved ones have been lost, vulnerable newborns are at home and being immunocompromised puts others at higher risk, we are now at a very uncomfortable time of figuring out what risks have lowered enough that they are now worth taking, and which ones are not. 

Again, this is not my place to know or figure out. I believe every individual should do what is best for them and their well-being. 

The University (just as any other institution or business), however, has the right to make decisions and take risks that it deems reasonable and beneficial to the community at large. 

The University’s near switch to a mask recommendation over that of a mandate is reasonable given the low incidence of COVID-19 on campus and overall decrease in severity for those who are vaccinated and boosted. 

Fairfield should not be expected to consult with every faculty member’s opinions or background first, because if that were the case no decision would ever be made. 

In a simplified model, prior to COVID-19 if I work somewhere, I’m expected to follow the rules provided to me and understand that I as an employee don’t make or have a say in higher-up decisions. That’s the job of my manager and company owners. I know that it is my right to talk with my manager on any concerns I have, but that doesn’t guarantee there will be change. As a last resort, I can leave the job if it no longer serves my best interests. 

With COVID-19 and rightfully so, many more individual concerns have had influence over widespread protocols. We all came together and partook in measures that would protect others, while scientists worked diligently to create vaccines and increase our safety to the level we see today.

There comes a time when we need to be pushed back into the uncomfortable if we ever want to return to how it once was. Masks are still recommended and can be worn by those who want to keep this extra level of protection. All that is being granted now is a choice. 

Fairfield is merely taking a first step into reversing its COVID-19 measures, as we transition slowly out of the pandemic. 

It is the right choice for the foreseeable future and it can always change. 

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