Students adjust to Yale’s relaxed mask restrictions
Students returning from spring break this week have begun adjusting to relaxations to University mask requirements, which went into effect on March 21.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
Students returned from spring break this week to the most relaxed mask guidance all semester. Six students reflected on the first days back since break, recalling mixed emotions about the changes to masking policy that included surprise, hesitancy and relief.
On March 21, the University instituted a policy that face masks, which had previously been required in all Yale buildings, would only be necessary in classrooms and instructional spaces, on campus transit and at healthcare facilities. Members of the Yale community are no longer required to wear masks in dining halls, libraries or gymnasiums, or in New Haven restaurants, shops, bars and gyms per a change to city policy that went into effect on March 7.
For Anne Northrup ’22, the habit of wearing a mask everywhere has not been a hard one to break, but walking around without a mask still feels unnatural.
“Sometimes I’ll still have it on when I’m coming from class, but that’s about it,” Northrup said. “It still feels a little risqué though, especially in the dining hall; like I’m doing something that I shouldn’t. Logically it shouldn’t be an issue. I read the email, I’ve gotten my negative tests, I haven’t been exposed to any COVID-y situations. I know I don’t have to wear a mask. But still.”
Although Northrup said changes to the mask mandate felt like a reasonable response to current rates of COVID-19, she was nevertheless surprised by the announcement. Given Yale’s historically strict COVID-19 guidelines — among the most stringent in the Ivy League — Northrup said she expected the previous mask mandate to remain in place for the rest of the semester.
Tiffany Toh ’25 and Diego Bolanos ’25 also voiced their surprise about the University’s loosened mask restrictions. For Bolanos, who is immunocompromised, the changes felt both premature and inconsistent.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen this soon, and the mandate itself was pretty weird,” Bolanos said. “It didn’t really make sense to me that they would still keep the mask mandate in class, as if COVID doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
For others, including Edmund Zheng ’24 and Stevan Kamatovic ’25, the mandate lifting did not come as a surprise, but rather seemed like an inevitable response to loosening restrictions at other universities and new guidance from the CDC.
Zhang said that while at first it seemed that people continued to wear masks even where they were no longer required to, more students began removing masks in spaces like dining halls and gyms as word about the new guidance traveled across campus.
Bolanos is still adjusting to the new policy — he noted that after two years of masking, he still takes a mask wherever he goes, even if he knows he will not need one. Sometimes, he said, he forgets that masks are no longer required in certain spaces where he feels accustomed to wearing them.
“I end up just [wearing a mask] out of instinct,” Bolanos said. “But if I am consciously thinking about it, I choose not to wear a mask. I feel like it’s both just a personal preference and a little bit of peer pressure. It feels weird to wear a mask when no one else is.”
Northrup, similarly, noted that while she did not find it hard to stop wearing a mask, it was hard to stop thinking about whether or not she was wearing one.
Toh said that her masking habits are mostly the same, with some gray areas — she might leave her mask off to clear dining hall dishes or if she is in a study room with one other person, but otherwise finds it similarly hard to shake the masking habits which the University has enforced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whenever I walk into a building, whenever I open a door, I find myself reaching into my pocket for a mask,” Toh said. “Even when I’m watching a movie, and I see people walking into a room without taking that step, I internally flinch a little bit. That’s going to be a hard habit to break. I don’t know if I will ever fully be able to erase the self consciousness that comes with being unmasked in a public space, even long after the pandemic ends.”
Ted Shepherd ’25 characterized the current atmosphere on campus as a “moment of transition.”
Although Shepherd said he noticed others hesitating over whether or not it would be safe for them to go unmasked in public spaces on campus, he felt relieved to see more people grow comfortable with the more relaxed restrictions.
“Walking through a public space here on campus and seeing people not wearing masks is a welcome reminder to me, every time, that we are getting to the end of this long period of sickness and misery for so many people,” Shepherd said. “Everybody has been affected by the pandemic, and it is so heartening to us all that we can safely start to return to normalcy.”
Already, Kamatovic said he had noticed that people seemed willing to interact with each other in a “more natural way” than they would while wearing masks.
For Northrup, the loosening of restrictions means that campus feels closer — although still not the same — to how it did before the pandemic. Now that concerns about COVID-19 are no longer “the elephant in the room” in public spaces, she said, she is more relaxed at the dining hall or the gym.
“Seeing people’s full face is magical, too,” Northrup added. “Actually wonderful. The sort of thing you’d only miss when it’s gone. It’s a new small joy in my day to notice somebody’s expression. The full deal, not just around the eyes. Maybe a bit odd, I know, but it’s true.”
COVID-19 booster shots are currently required for students on campus.