CUNY announced on Monday, March 7, that its mask mandate – which had been put in place since August 2021 – was no longer in effect. The move follows New York City’s own lifting of their mask protocols for schools and public spaces.
Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez addressed the decision in a public statement sent to students and faculty members through an email blast, writing, “In response to revised guidance issued by the CDC last week, we are lifting the temporary mask mandate that has been in place since August 2021 and required all CUNY students, faculty, staff and visitors to wear masks inside University campuses, office buildings, classrooms and other non-enclosed spaces.”
While masks are optional for students, faculty members, and visitors, it is still required that all parties be vaccinated or have a negative test result taken within the past seven days.
As a CUNY student, I was shocked to hear about this and I’m afraid for my fellow peers.
Masks were told to be the first line of defense when the COVID-19 wave first hit New York City. Without having it, it seemed like all other efforts were made completely pointless.
The decision is also a surprise for many Queens College students. While many believed that CUNY would eventually follow New York City’s example of lifting the mask mandates, what was shocking was how fast Chancellor Matos got on board.
It begs the questions: Was the decision made hastily? Did the low COVID cases at the time encouragor inform this decision?
“While I understand that CUNY is following the decisions made by leaders outside of our community — there is value to continuing the mask mandate within our classrooms where we are close together in small spaces. It indicates respect for each others’ well-being — which is what our QC community values,” explains Queens College Professor Esther Muehlbauer.
Over the course of the pandemic, a mask became a symbol of respect among many communities — to protect ourselves and others while COVID-19 was spreading. Medical experts around the globe also repeatedly stated the important role masks played in helping us stop the spread of COVID-19 in public spaces.
Without it shows that we’re isolating scientific facts and returning to “normalcy” too soon.
The lifting of CUNY’s mask mandate has caused a variety of emotions among students, educators, and parents – not just at Queens College. “I’m vaccinated, as are most of the faculty. But we can transmit delta to the unvaccinated. That is, I could cause an unvaccinated student to get infected, or infect their unvaccinated family members. This possibility is unbearable to me,” states Jill Abbott, a professor at York College.
Students now have to reconcile pursuing their education while also prioritizing their safety.
The lifting of the mask mandate is a political move rather than a public health concern, one which CUNY is all too eager to follow. New York City Mayor Eric Adams is removing the mask mandate without considering the CUNY population. This has caused further tension for students and faculty members who are engaging in in-person classes.
A recent Siena College poll found that only 30 percent of New Yorkers wanted the mask mandate to be lifted. COVID-19 still remains a deadly disease and there is a huge possibility of transmitting the virus to an unvaccinated individual.
Rather than uplifting the mandate at once, the choice should have been a collective decision independently made for each CUNY school — similar to the previous polls and surveys sent out in previous semesters. The priority should be keeping our community safe.
Lifting the mask mandate not only increases the rate of infection, but disregards the progress we’ve made in combating COVID-19. Rates have remained constant as a result of the omicron variant, which continues to spread around the country.
As a community, we must continue wearing masks. Even though it’s optional in Queens College, we should protect one another from the transmission virus