On March 28, President Elizabeth Bradley announced in an email that masking will only continue to be required in indoor classes, Health Services, Metcalf, Athletic Training Rooms and COVID-19 testing facilities. The email came after one week of post-arrival testing revealed only 16 student and four employee positive cases.
According to Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, maskless faces around campus in acceptable areas, such as Gordon Commons and in dorm buildings, are sure to be a sign of normalcy. “It is unclear if the number of cases will decrease, but we expect that cases will not result in illnesses requiring hospitalization,” Alamo-Pastrana said in a written correspondence. He added that the decision to ease restrictions was made in reaction to removed state and local mask mandates and the relatively limited prevalence of COVID-19 cases in Dutchess County.
The community mostly agrees with the new COVID-19 practices, Alamo-Pastrana noted. “Generally, the COVID-19 practices seem to be acceptable, although some students would prefer we unmask in classes.”
The shift came as a surprise to many students, although the administration had been hinting at dropping the mask mandate if cases remained minimal following the break. “I thought it was interesting that they were changing the policy this early after spring break, but I think it might be a good thing,” said Marisa McGehee ’24. “It seems like cases are relatively low and so there isn’t as much risk as earlier in the year.”
One student, Ishika Muppidi ’25, said, “I think the updated masking policies will be good. They are kind of a middle ground between still being cautious about COVID-19 and the removal of the mask mandates.” She added, “Not having to wear masks in dorms will be nice because I hope it’ll make it feel more like a home.”
While excited, students are still expressing worry over the shifting norms. Olivia Gatto ’24, said “I’m nervous but hopeful about the new policy. I don’t want people to start getting sick. I know that I’ll probably be masking in dorms and the [Deece] for a little longer, just to feel safe.”
Some students have not hesitated to call out the flaws in the new plan released by the administration. “The updated masking policy is a step in the right direction, but the inconsistencies are almost ridiculous,” said Marcus D’Agostino ’23. He added, “My two-person Russian class requires masks. Masking is an educational hindrance, particularly for language classes and those who rely on reading lips.”
Meanwhile, Gatto expressed that she doesn’t know if mask mandates should be completely removed. “I don’t think my opinion on this matters as much because I won’t be someone who will be very impacted if I get sick,” she said. She added that Vassar should bring back consistent PCR testing, as rapid tests can be unreliable.
Many students agree, citing the need for more accurate and efficient testing. “Regular testing is an unobtrusive policy that promotes safety, but gathering restrictions and mask restrictions are unnecessary and only promote further social and educational isolation,” said D’Agostino.
With more testing, McGehee said that masks can slowly become a thing of the past. “I think at this point it is okay to remove them gradually so long as we keep staying on top of testing and contact tracing,” she said, adding “I am a little worried about another outbreak like we had in December, but it seems like the school has learned their lesson about testing after breaks and seems to be on top of it.”
Alamo-Pastrana emphasized that the College continues to encourage testing for those with symptoms or close contacts. He said, “COVID-19 testing for people with symptoms is always available and will continue to be; testing for people without symptoms remains available Wednesday and Fridays from 1:30-4PM in the Aula.”
Regardless of the new policy, Alamo-Pastrana said, “We do encourage students to carry a mask so they can easily wear one if requested.”