Mask off? Lafayette looks to the future of Covid protocols

The+college+will+likely+continue+the+mask+mandate+unless+CDC+recommendations+change%2C+according+to+Vice+President+for+Campus+Life+Annette+Diorio.+%28Photo+by+Caroline+Burns+22+for+The+Lafayette%29

Photo by Caroline Burns

The college will likely continue the mask mandate unless CDC recommendations change, according to Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio. (Photo by Caroline Burns ’22 for The Lafayette)

Trebor Maitin, Assistant News Editor

As states and localities across the nation ease or erase their mask mandates, the future of masking at Lafayette has come into question. Annette Diorio, the vice president of Campus Life, is taking a “flexible” approach to masking going forward. 

“Individual places make decisions that sit well within their communities,” Diorio wrote in an email. “The CDC may change their indoor masking guidance soon, and if they do, we will follow the amended guidance. If they don’t, we are still looking at our community experience and trying to make adjustments to offer greater flexibility.”

CDC guidance currently dictates that masks should be worn indoors in counties where Covid transmission is “substantial or high.” Only 2.4% of counties in the United States meet that criteria; Northampton County currently has a “substantial” transmission rate. All Lehigh Valley universities and colleges currently require masks to be worn in indoor settings. Only about half of local school districts require masking, while several are considering dropping their mask policies, including the Easton Area School District.

In last week’s Covid Town Hall, Diorio said that most Lehigh Valley schools plan to keep their mandates in place “until at least spring break,” but differentiated those requirements from those of primary schools due to the latter not having students living on campus.

“The only thing that makes us different from local K-12 environments is the residential nature of the campus and the very close physical proximity students live in,” Diorio wrote. “In most cases, students are not masking inside their immediate living spaces anyway.”

The CDC is reportedly weighing an overhaul of their mask guidelines, with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stating last Wednesday in a press conference that changes could be coming “soon,” possibly by next week. This comes as several national polls have shown a vast majority of Americans are ready to “get on with” their lives and accept Covid as a fixture in society. Diorio reflected those sentiments in the town hall.

“As we see less cases, and I am confident that we will see less cases, we’re going to need to revisit how many of the protocols we keep and what we change because we do need to start to live in the world, even a world that has Covid,” Diorio said during the town hall. “What we’ve done–you’re being vaccinated, your boosters–have really done the things that help keep you from having the worst possible outcomes…you want to live in the world and not be restricted from all of the things that you should be doing as college students.”

Not all students look forward to the day mask restrictions are lifted. Naya Kurdy ‘25 said she would be “really really scared” if Lafayette were to lift its mandate.

“I don’t want to get Covid,” Kurdy said.

Other students are neutral when it comes to the easing of mask mandates.

“I generally don’t care,” Skyler Chang ‘25 said. “I’m pretty indifferent.”

Chang added that people should “do what they’ve got to do,” when it comes to keeping themselves safe from Covid.

Diorio acknowledged that people would probably continue masking even in the absence of a mandate.

“For some members of our community, masking is going to need to stay in place for a variety of reasons: people’s own anxieties, underlying conditions, family members,” Diorio said during the town hall. “So we need to be sure that when we transition out of [masking] that we’re not shaming people, saying ‘Why are you wearing that mask?’”

Diorio said that the classroom would likely be “the last place” where masking restrictions are lifted, suggesting that masking rules would be up to individual professors.

“Some professors are perfectly comfortable not masking,” Diorio said, adding that other professors presently have more stringent guidelines than the school itself.

Over 98% of Lafayette students are fully vaccinated with a booster dose. When asked whether it makes sense to ease mask requirements after the current surge subsides, Diorio responded simply, “yes.”

Director of Health Services Jeffrey Goldstein declined to comment.