Partially backtracking on guidance issued last month, the University will require unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff to wear masks indoors on campus this fall.
The University will also “encourage” mask-wearing among the vaccinated, notably stopping short of the mandates that multiple peer institutions have instituted or maintained.
The decision, announced on Twitter on Aug. 5, comes following new CDC recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors in regions of “substantial or high transmission.” Mercer County, as of Aug. 5, was listed by the CDC as having “substantial” transmission.
It also comes on the heels of a number of other universities maintaining or re-implementing mask mandates for the fully vaccinated amid fears surrounding the Delta variant, including at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago. Those institutions are also requiring vaccination on campus, and are in counties designated by the CDC as having “high” or “substantial” transmission.
The new University requirement will likely only apply to a small portion of the campus population, given that the University is requiring vaccination for all students, faculty, and staff aside from medical and religious exemptions. International students who were unable to get vaccinated in their home countries will be able to get vaccinated on campus.
Over 90 percent of employees are already “fully vaccinated and verified,” according to a message from University Health Services (UHS) sent to faculty and staff. Approximately 90 percent of undergraduate and graduate students have also sumbmitted vaccination records, Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told The Daily Princetonian.
“We continue to reach out to students by phone and email, and through social media, to encourage them to complete the process,” Hotchkiss wrote in a statement. “Seven staff members at University Health Services are working full-time to upload vaccination information and address questions from students.”
In a public health update from UHS sent to faculty and staff, Executive Director John Kolligian, Medical Lead of COVID-19 Response Irini Daskalaki, and Medical Director Melissa Marks wrote that employees who remain unvaccinated must complete the Daily Symptom Check, be tested twice a week, and wear face coverings indoors.
Vaccinated individuals must continue to participate in the asymptomatic testing program once a week and will not need to complete the Daily Symptom Check, according to UHS.
With regard to the newly emergent Delta variant, which currently constitutes the majority of COVID-19 cases, the email noted that current data “suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the US are effective at providing protection against known variants, including the Delta variant.”
Those who remain unvaccinated significantly increase their risk of contracting the Delta variant.
“As concerning as the Delta variant is, we can help keep it at bay with the tools and strategies we’ve been practicing for the past year and a half,” wrote UHS in their email to faculty and staff.
The announced masking regulations are subject to change if “increasing risk of virus spread is identified on campus or in our community.”
“Specifically, additional public health measures for unvaccinated employees may be required,” according to the email from UHS.
The announcement on Aug. 5 represents a departure from previous guidance issued by the University, which had stated that face coverings would no longer be required indoors or outdoors on campus regardless of vaccination status, with the exception of TigerTransit vehicles and McCosh Health Center, based on state guidance.
The previously-issued guidance had also allowed for the reopening at full capacity of residential buildings, dining halls, eating clubs, classrooms, and research labs. Thursday’s announcement does not clarify if or how these activities would be affected by the new masking guidelines.
It also did not clarify how these rules would be enforced for unvaccinated individuals.
This story is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.