After review of new state, SUNY and CDC guidelines, and in consultation with the COVID-19 Cabinet and county health officials, campus leadership has decided to relax our indoor mask mandate and move to a mask-optional policy effective Monday, March 14. This timing brings us into a new phase of our successful COVID-19 management as we resume classes after spring break.
This move is in line with current pandemic trends and similar masking relaxations taking effect at the local, state and federal level, and expert guidance and all available metrics support making this change now. However, we recognize that members of our community will have different levels of comfort with being in the presence of others who are unmasked.
We ask that all students, faculty and staff keep in mind that some in our community may be immunocompromised, or may be caretakers for immunocompromised people or unvaccinated young children in their households. We all can help support these colleagues, peers and professors by respecting requests to voluntarily wear a mask and/or maintain six feet of social distance. But the College will enforce mask wearing only in the below-named, health-related campus spaces where it is still required.
What changed on March 14
Masks are now optional for all students, faculty, staff and visitors in most indoor campus spaces, including classrooms, labs and residence halls.
Exceptions include the Student Health Service, the COVID-19 testing site at Awosting Hall, the state-run testing site at College Terrace, the Psychological Counseling Center, the Speech-Language & Hearing Center and the Athletic Training Facility in Elting Gym. Masks are still required for everyone in these spaces.
SUNY strongly recommends that anyone who is not vaccinated (including those with approved exemptions) and/or not boosted wear masks indoors when in the presence of others.
The federal requirement to mask on all public transportation remains in effect. Please keep this in mind for use of UCAT and for Trailways or Metro-North.
Continue masking around others if you are on day 6-10 after completing day 1-5 of isolation or quarantine.
What has not changed
All other COVID-19 safety policies, including SUNY’s vaccine and booster mandate for students and the weekly testing requirement for anyone who is unvaccinated, remain in effect. Students must be vaccinated or have an approved exemption to register for in-person classes when summer and fall registration opens in April.
We fully support all members of our community who wish to continue wearing masks to protect themselves and/or dependents at home, and we encourage everyone to adopt personal best practices to reduce individual exposure. One of the best such personal protection measures is to use N95s or KN95s, which are both highly effective and now widely available. It’s important to remember such masks have a primary effect of protecting the wearer. We will continue to distribute our current supply of N95s from the Mail Room in Haggerty Administration Building to all students, faculty and staff members with campus ID.
We will continue providing on-campus COVID-19 testing and encourage anyone experiencing symptoms or who has a known exposure to get a test, including students returning from spring break.
As always, we will remain in close contact with SUNY and health department partners and will react quickly to modify pandemic policies should conditions or guidance change.
Why we are making this change now
While we had previously signaled an interest in waiting until later in March to consider this action, a number of recent changes factored into our decision to accelerate that timetable. They include:
Rapidly declining infection and hospitalization rates in our region: The Omicron variant caused a sudden spike of cases in Ulster County in January, and case numbers have declined just as rapidly: The County Dashboard shows active cases in March 2022 have declined to their lowest levels since July 2021. Additionally, 97% of our eligible students are vaccinated and boosted, and 82% of employees have shown proof of vaccination.
New CDC guidelines that place Ulster County and the region in a Low-Risk category: CDC’s new Community Levels guidelines, published Feb. 25, are designed for a new phase of the pandemic, with waning infection rates and high levels of vaccination and population immunity. They focus on hospitalizations and local health system capacity as key metrics for determining prevention strategies. According to these metrics, Ulster County is currently designated a Low-Risk zone, as are most of the Mid-Hudson Valley, the NYC Metro area and Long Island. The CDC recommends vaccination and testing when symptomatic, but no universal masking, for Low-Risk areas.
Recent moves to lift or relax mandates where pandemic conditions are like our own: Many peer SUNY institutions have already or will soon adjust their campus masking policies. New Paltz Central School District has done so, as have state and federal government agencies.
We know well by this point, nearly two years into the pandemic, that conditions can change quickly. Our hope for the remainder of the semester is to balance an adaptive, data-informed approach with a growing sense of optimism that our campus community will soon emerge from COVID-19 challenges as strong and lively as it has ever been.