This piece represents the majority view of the editorial board taken at the time of production, and does not represent the collective view of the managing board of the Yale Daily News. For more information about the editorial board, read the board’s primer.

On March 21, Yale updated its COVID-19 policy to account for recent improvements in the public health situation. As a result of this change, masks are now required only in classrooms, on public transportation and in Yale Health facilities. Although this represents an important step forward for the Yale community, it is still an imperfect policy and one that represents a continuation of the University’s inconsistent handling of the pandemic.

Since March 7, there has been no mask mandate, except for on public transportation, in either the city of New Haven or the state of Connecticut. Similarly, most of Yale’s peer institutions, including Harvard, Princeton and MIT — all of which are located in the Northeast and experiencing similar public health conditions — have lifted their mandates and made masking the personal choice that it should be at this stage of the pandemic. We are not aware of a single state or local jurisdiction anywhere in America that requires everyone to wear masks, nor any peer institution that does so, except Cornell and Penn.

One of the most common arguments in favor of continuing Yale’s mask mandate is that the University has an obligation to protect the surrounding community. There are several key issues with this claim, though. For one, we don’t represent New Haveners. Rather, they are represented by their elected mayor and more broadly, by the state legislature and governor, who have, in consultation with their communities, ended all mask mandates. New Haveners are now free to make their own health decisions and as a part of their community, we should match local guidelines. Nevertheless, Yale has continued to ban visitors who are not preapproved by the administration and restrict Yale student groups from volunteering in the community. As long as the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the New Haven community, it is crucial that Yale adopts requirements consistent with those recommended by local and national health professionals rather than implementing divergent mandates and policies. Rather than enacting policies that seem symbolic, Yale should lift the restriction on visitors, like public school students participating in Yale student-led activities and on Dwight Hall groups venturing off campus to serve the community.

Another issue with the updated policy is that it is inconsistent with the administration’s repeated insistence that COVID-19 does not spread in classrooms. On Sept. 3, 2021, University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler informed the student body that there was “very little evidence of COVID-19 transmission” in such settings, a sentiment she repeated on Dec. 10 and 17. Even in the midst of the Omicron surge, which led to unprecedented case counts, Spangler, along with Provost Scott Strobel, Melanie Boyd and Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, continued to articulate this message, repeating it almost verbatim on Feb. 9, 10, 16, 24 and 25, as well as March 10. Yet, when the University updated its regulations, classrooms were one of the only spaces in which masks were still required. Why, we must ask, is this the case? The idea that students should wear masks during class but not in libraries or during office hours, when they are in equally close proximity to their fellow students and professors, is both confusing and counterproductive.  If Yale administrators believed that we continue to be in an emergency — or if Yale truly wanted to maximally protect immunocompromised students — then stricter measures would be required across the board; COVID-19 does not disappear when we move from classrooms to butteries or from shuttles to serveries. The only plausible explanation seems to be virtue signaling — a purely performative motive. Trusting the science requires consistently following its advice, not doing so only in arbitrarily chosen situations.

The Centers for Disease Control says that 95 percent of Americans, including 100 percent of those in Connecticut, don’t need to wear masks unless they choose to do so, shouldn’t test unless symptomatic, and those who test positive need not quarantine beyond five days. Yale’s current protocol contradicts all of these policies: requiring masking in classrooms, twice weekly testing and an indefinite quarantine for those who test positive until a negative result is received. Are our University officials suggesting that they have more accurate information than these groups? If so, why? 

The University’s decision to maintain pandemic restrictions at a time when almost all states and localities have, en masse, removed them, is deeply troubling and only reinforces a divide between our institution and the surrounding community. We have a responsibility to respect and support those around us, but inconsistent mask mandates will have little impact on a community that is not doing the same and will only continue to detract from our college experience and Yale’s extraordinary potential to contribute to our community.