Feb. 28 update on indoor masking policies at SUNY New Paltz, which remain in place for now

The following information was communicated as part of President Donald P. Christian’s March 2022 Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty, which can be read in its entirety here.

UPDATE: On March 8, the College announced a new mask-optional policy effective March 14. Please see here for more details about that change.


As communicated last week, SUNY modified its spring semester COVID-19 guidance to allow campuses to consider lifting indoor mask mandates. The revised guidance is also clear that campuses may decide to retain these mandates, as a number of SUNY campuses are doing. We announced last week that our indoor mask requirement would remain in place for now.

That message preceded the CDC announcement last Friday of new COVID-19 management guidelines. The new CDC guidelines focus on reviewing county-level COVID-19 metrics that include hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and total number of new COVID-19 cases in a county. Counties are classified as low, medium, or high risk, with different masking or other recommendations; for the “low” classification, recommendations include staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and getting tested if you have symptoms, but no indoor mask-wearing recommendation. Ulster County is classified as “low” risk, as are counties from which we recruit most of our students. Those include nine counties in the Hudson Valley (broadly defined), Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, and counties representing the New York City boroughs. A number of other New York counties fall into the “medium” or “high” levels.

A possible change in our indoor masking requirements consistent with these new guidelines will be a primary topic of discussion at this week’s COVID Cabinet meeting on March 2. We will work to understand the guidelines fully, and assess implications of a change in our masking policy. SUNY guidelines are explicit that any change in such practices must be determined in consultation with county health officials, and communicated with SUNY before implementation. We are beginning those conversations.

I ask your continued patience as we consider these next steps. One aspect that must be considered is the potential impact of student spring-break travel to parts of the country where risk levels may be higher. Several of my SUNY presidential colleagues expressed the same concern – will COVID-19 metrics two weeks after students have returned to campus after spring break be similar or vastly different than now? As in the past, our immediate campus decision will be based on our best judgment about how to enable all members of our community to enjoy a safe and productive end of the 2021-22 academic year, as will any possible changes later in the semester.

The mixed reaction to my message that we would be continuing our indoor masking requirement reinforces the uncertainty around a change in policy. This language from a Friday afternoon New York Times report captures some of that sense:

A growing number of political leaders, public health experts and ordinary citizens now support the easing of restrictions — at least temporarily. But others are still wary, noting that millions of people in the United States — including children under 5 — and billions elsewhere remain unvaccinated, making the emergence of a dangerous new variant not just possible but likely.

The White House has been working on a pandemic exit strategy that would help Americans live with the virus. But Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C.’s director, said just two weeks ago that it was not yet time to lift mask mandates. And officials in the C.D.C. and the Department of Health and Human Services are nervous about the changing guidance, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

We will certainly be mindful of the varied perceptions in our community as we consider a possible change in masking policy, even as the best and latest CDC guidance must be given full consideration. Of course, we will share new information and guidance as it is available.

SUNY spring semester policies and mandates for vaccinations, booster shots, and testing remain unchanged and will continue throughout the semester.