After more than two months of masking in classrooms, the University announced in a Nov. 11 email that the mask mandate will be reconsidered and likely relaxed. But such changes will only come 10 days after Thanksgiving break at the earliest, at which point classes will have finished.
On campus there has been a consistently low COVID-19 case rate and nationally, cases have decreased since the Delta variant wave of the early fall, but COVID-19 continues to be a threat in parts of the country and around the world. We asked ‘Prince’ columnists for their Reactions to the University’s potential mask policy change.
Princeton needs to be more transparent about its COVID-19 decision making
By Allen Liu, Columnist
When the University announced a mask mandate in August, many students were taken aback; the announcement came days after Princeton had appeared to opt against a mandate, and many feared that tighter restrictions would follow. Just two weeks later, on Sept. 10, the University declared the mask mandate would be in place “until further notice.” The reasons weren’t clear. The recent announcement that the mask policy might be relaxed after Thanksgiving break is similarly vague.
The University deserves immense credit for keeping cases near zero and making it possible to have an almost normal semester. However, lack of clarity about the criteria and timeline for decisions about the mask mandate has confused and frustrated students.
While masks may bear a minor inconvenience that most are willing to accept, they have a nontrivial impact on campus life: meetings and classes become more awkward and less effective; performing arts rehearsals are hindered; students may prefer to socialize in private rather than in public spaces that are conducive to spontaneous interactions.
Compliance with the mandate outside of classrooms is spotty. If the University has a rationale for continuing to enforce the mandate, making students aware of their decision making process will increase compliance with the mandate.
Allen Liu is a senior from Chattanooga, TN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Princeton punting on the mask mandate is cowardly
By Rohit Narayanan, Columnist
The University, which has gone a whole semester without significant on-campus transmission, announced that they will announce a new mask policy 10 days after Thanksgiving break. Why Thanksgiving? Let’s count the days, shall we? 10 days after the holiday break puts us at ... Dec. 8, the second day of reading period, after which no more classes will take place.
Wow, what a bold step!
The University mask strategy always seems to be more of a public relations exercise than a genuine engagement with public health. With multiple recent weeks of zero cases among undergraduates, it’s tough to understand why the mandate is in effect in the first place. The University wants to seem like it’s loosening the mask mandate without actually having to defend their decision.
The mandate has always been more of a formality than a reality. We eat unmasked in massive dining halls. There has been low mask compliance at some of the most high-risk events at the Eating Clubs. Not to mention, this semester every lecture and seminar has been punctuated by a nearly nonstop chorus of coughing from every corner of the room (the notorious “Princeton Plague”), despite the masks. Despite all that, there has been almost no transmission of COVID-19 on campus.
All the mandate has done is needlessly annoy the more compliant of us. The University should have been brave enough to embrace this fact and lift the mask mandate earlier.
Rohit Narayanan is a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major from McLean, VA. He can be reached at email@example.com.
We must start the spring with masks
By Audrey Chau, Contributing Columnist
For the current semester, it’s time to lift the mask mandate. In dining halls, residential colleges, and eating clubs, students no longer take wearing masks seriously. Given that the undergraduate COVID-19 case count has remained at or near zero for several consecutive weeks, students’ masking conduct makes sense.
Yet, by timing the mask mandate to be lifted after a very safe semester has essentially finished, and before a much more precarious semester begins, the University has chosen the worst of all worlds. We cannot, by any means, let our guard down and indulge in the delusion that COVID-19 is a war of the past. The University must be prepared to reimplement the mask mandate for the spring semester.
The spring is going to present new challenges. Given the revised international travel guidelines and the upcoming weeks-long winter break, an increase in international travel is inevitable, including to countries like my own — Vietnam — where COVID is still a menace and vaccines remain inaccessible to many.
If we ditch masks entirely in the spring, we will put ourselves in a precarious position if there is a sudden outbreak with students returning from such high-risk regions. In the spirit of prioritizing the safety of our community, we should start with a mask mandate in the spring, not only as a tangible preventive measure but also as a reminder that COVID-19 remains a very real concern beyond the Orange Bubble.
Audrey Chau is a freshman from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @AudreyBChau.