University relaxes COVID-19 policies across campus, preserves classroom mask mandate
Asymptomatic testing will no longer be required for Yale students, and mask mandates have been lifted outside the classroom.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
Yale College lifted a host of public health restrictions ahead of the fall 2022 semester, but kept up its mask mandate within classrooms.
Although students must test for COVID-19 upon arrival to campus, they are no longer required to complete regular asymptomatic tests. And while a mask mandate remains in place for in-person instruction, it has largely been lifted across the rest of campus.
According to the University COVID-19 dashboard, 104 students were in isolation either on or off campus as of Aug. 29.
“It’s not like COVID is totally behind us,” Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis said. “That said, there’s a much higher overall level of immunity in our community, due to people having been infected and vaccines and boosters and so on. We’re hoping that between the combination of vaccines, testing of anybody who’s got symptoms and masking where appropriate, we keep it pretty much at bay.”
Documented vaccines and first booster shots are currently required among all students, faculty and staff who do not have a medical or religious exemption. Students living in on-campus housing may also now host guests provided that they are also up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
The rise and fall of the Omicron variant over the last academic year saw frequent revisions to University COVID-19 policy and fierce debate on campus surrounding the validity of continued public health restrictions over two years into the pandemic.
Now, Lewis hopes that fewer changes will need to be made to COVID-19 policy throughout the year as the University streamlines its response to new variants and outbreaks.
“I’m sure things will evolve, but we hope they won’t have to change quite as frequently as in the past,” Lewis said. “Every time there’s a new wave, you have to respond to it, but we’ve been through that drill a few times.”
In an Aug. 1 message, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd urged students to take a COVID-19 test shortly before traveling to campus, but noted that only students who tested positive were required to report testing.
Upon arrival, students are required to take a PCR test through the University’s new Color platform, which allows members of the Yale community to obtain and drop off test kits at kiosks around campus in lieu of Yale-run testing sites. Although all students who exhibit COVID-19-related symptoms are expected to test, no other testing requirements remain in place for the semester.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate — either in isolation housing or in their rooms — for five to seven days. However, close contacts of individuals with the virus will no longer be required to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status.
Face masks are no longer required on campus, except in the classroom, in health facilities, on University transportation and at certain densely-populated events and performances. Yale College Health and Safety Leader Julie Sweigard told the News that the classroom mask mandate was continued “for the first weeks of the semester” because the arrival of students from different locations creates a higher risk for the introduction of COVID-19 infections.
“We are being sensitive to the fact that students are able to choose which social events or places on campus they would like to participate in or visit according to their level of health and safety comfort, but they are not able to do so with their class requirements,” Sweigard wrote in an email to the News.
Sweigard noted that in-class masking likely played a role in the relatively low rate of classroom transmission observed last semester.
But the current classroom mask requirement remains tentative. According to Sweigard, University COVID-19 policymakers will review whether or not to maintain the mandate in the first few weeks after the campus has entirely repopulated.
Abby Parrish ’25, an immunocompromised student, said that she valued the University’s decision to keep the mask mandate in place.
“I want to be able to sit in a classroom like a normal student and focus on my class without having the voice in my mind going, ‘The person behind you is unmasked, I hope you don’t get COVID from them,’” Parrish said. “The classroom is, above all, the place where everyone has to have equal access. I feel like keeping the mask requirement is the best way to ensure equity in the classroom for students like me, whose learning would be negatively impacted without it.”
Psychologists have stressed the strain that the rigid public health restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mental health, especially among adolescents whose academic and social lives have been upended by several semesters of online learning. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has reported a spike in young adults experiencing anxiety or depression since the start of the pandemic, which the organization linked to social isolation imposed by lockdown.
Without the strict guidelines that have defined campus life for the past four semesters, decisions about COVID-19 safety will now largely be made on the individual level.
Sweigard said that students should continue to mask in crowded indoor spaces or if they are experiencing “even slight” symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Asymptomatic testing will remain available through Color, and Sweigard urged students to test any time they think they might have been exposed to the virus. Additional testing, she told the News, may also be required to participate in performing arts events on a case-by-case basis.
Last year, Parrish said, the continued anxiety she felt surrounding COVID-19 caution as the people around her returned to normal campus life could be isolating.
As of Aug. 29, 99.6 percent of undergraduate students are vaccinated against COVID-19.