Tim Tai, Staff Photographer

After nearly two academic years of strict mask mandates, Yale will partially lift its indoor mask mandate on March 21.

University Provost Scott Strobel, Senior Vice President for Operations Jack Callahan and University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler announced Thursday that Yale would lift its masking requirement for select indoor activities — a change that will become policy at the start of spring recess. Masks, however, will still be required in all classes. Amid a wave of loosening restrictions across the Ivy League, Yale’s policy remains one of the strictest among its peer institutions. Among the 10 students who spoke to the News, the changes to the mask mandate have generated mixed reactions.

“Based on public health conditions and new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we write today to announce that we will modify Yale’s indoor masking requirements and our events, gatherings, and meetings policies on Monday, March 21, 2022,” Strobel, Callahan and Spangler wrote to the Yale community. “In our campus community, the numbers of new COVID-19 infections among faculty and staff remain low, and those among graduate and professional students are stable.”

Students will still be required to wear a face mask in all classrooms and instructional spaces, on campus transit and at healthcare facilities such as Yale Health. In all other settings, however, masking will be optional. As such, members of the Yale community will no longer be required to wear masks in dining halls, libraries or gymnasiums.

According to Strobel, Callahan and Spangler, the University’s near-universal vaccination rates, the decline in cases from the Omicron wave and the absence of any severe illness among the student body enable the University to begin loosening its pandemic restrictions. Ninety-nine percent of students and 96 percent of faculty are fully vaccinated, according to the University’s COVID-19 Dashboard.

Coupled with these loosened restrictions, the University further relaxed gathering regulations, announcing that gatherings can now proceed without approval from the University’s COVID Review Team.

Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’24, former president of Disability Empowerment for Yale, told the News that he accepts the change, but sees a need for an “administrative reckoning” with the fact that the Yale community has immunocompromised students who have to live with the repercussions of the administration’s actions. 

Lara Midkiff said he hoped the positive changes brought by COVID-19 like hybrid learning and virtual office hours would stay but would like to see more institutionalized resources for students with disabilities. 

“The University has to be more intelligent now, more deliberate, more empathetic, in how they will accommodate immunocompromised or disabled students as we begin to navigate this new reality that has been imposed upon us,” Lara Midkiff said. 

The announcement came amid a decline in Yale’s infection rate, following a surge earlier this term. As of March 8, 145 students were in isolation. The University recorded 59 total positive cases on March 7, down from 97 when the University experienced its most recent on-campus spike in mid-February.

While this announcement marks a significant change in the University’s pandemic policy, it nevertheless represents a more cautious approach than that of Yale’s peer institutions in the Ivy League.

On Monday, Harvard announced that it would lift its mask mandate on March 14. Students and professors can unmask in classrooms, regardless of class size. However, faculty can require students to wear a mask at their discretion. Moreover, masks will still be required at large indoor gatherings, in health care facilities and in transit facilities.

Princeton and Columbia also both announced that they would lift mask requirements, including during classes, while reducing the frequency with which students must test.

Stevan Kamatovic ’25 said that the mask restriction loosening was not only a warranted step, but the first of many restrictions he hoped the University would ease. Kamatovic added that the move had come too late, suggesting instead that the University “eliminate masks completely.” 

“I feel hopeful, like we can really get through this,” said Ted Shepherd ’25. “I know this means a lot to me and many others, finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

But for others, including several immunocompromised students, the announcement of loosening restrictions was troubling. 

On Tuesday, Abby Parrish ’25 told the News that she would be “terrified” if the mask mandate were lifted in the immediate future. 

“I will continue to mask, but I know that the majority of my classmates won’t, and will be very happy about not having to, and that will impact my ability to do things like go to class,” Parrish, who is immunocompromised, said. “I would stop going to my lectures and attend on Zoom because I would be afraid for my own health sitting in a lecture hall, and that would have a significant impact not only on my mental health but on my ability to learn.

In February, Yale students circulated a petition calling for all classes to offer a remote option. In their Thursday email, University officials called on the community to be considerate of members of the community who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.  

“We recognize that some of us will welcome this policy change, and others will still feel hesitant to unmask regardless of improved public health conditions,” Strobel, Callahan and Spangler wrote. “For most, choosing whether to mask will be a personal decision reflecting individual circumstances — such as underlying health conditions or caretaking responsibilities for those at higher risk — as well as comfort levels. As we move forward, we ask that mutual respect and civility continue to guide our behavior.”

Still, immunocompromised student Diego Bolanos ’25 called the decision “premature,” expressing confusion as to why the mandate would be dropped in places like gyms and libraries, where close interactions still occur. 

The University’s timing also raised concerns for Lusangelis Ramos ’25, who noted that many students will likely leave campus for spring break, potentially bringing COVID-19 cases back with them as the restrictions loosen. 

Tiffany Toh ’25 concurred, describing the announcement as “incredibly abrupt and strangely timed,” especially in the wake of a surge of COVID-19 cases on campus last month.

“I think many of us are suffering a bit of whiplash, going from near-daily ‘there are too many COVID cases’ announcements to being almost entirely mask-optional within the span of two weeks,” Toh said. “But I find myself optimistic that the relaxed policies, both at the Yale and the government level, mark the beginning of the end of this exhausting pandemic.” 

The same afternoon the University’s announcement was released, Student Accessibility Services sent an email to the student body reminding students with concerns about the new policy of their availability as a resource. The email also reaffirms SAS’s commitment to advising students through specific situations. 

Moving forward, Noah Vinogradov ’25 said he hoped the University would continue to follow the latest CDC guidance regarding loosening restrictions while keeping in mind the concerns of at-risk students — priorities which Vinogradov said did not have to be in conflict.

Howard Forman, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, public health management and economics, explained the delicate balance between relaxing regulations and protecting students.

“You don’t want to ostracize Yale students,” Forman said. “But we’ve never run Yale University to be protective of every student equally. There are people with peanut allergies, [and] we don’t forbid peanuts on campus. We take measures to protect them but we have to figure out how to balance that.”

Ultimately, Forman said, the University could not “go on with masking forever.” But he noted that there may be times in the future when the mandate should be reimposed.

COVID-19 booster shots are currently required for students on campus.

Update, March 11: This story has been updated with additional sourcing.

PHILIP MOUSAVIZADEH
Philip Mousavizadeh covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously covered the Jackson Institute. He is a sophomore in Trumbull College studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics
LUCY HODGMAN
Lucy Hodgman covers Student Life. She previously covered the Yale College Council for the News. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper majoring in English.
MICHAEL NDUBISI