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With indoor mask-wearing now recommended — but not required — at Harvard College, undergraduates have been left to decide for themselves whether to mask up in most indoor spaces.
Harvard lifted its mask mandate on March 14, when the City of Cambridge ended its own requirement. But the change came on the heels of a surge in cases among undergraduates in the four weeks prior to spring break, when 765 College students tested positive for the virus.
Because of the spike, the school rolled out “College-specific” guidelines that strongly recommend mask-wearing in common spaces and prohibit non-sponsored social gatherings in indoor residential spaces. The College also increased the undergraduate testing cadence to three times per week until March 28.
In interviews this week, some students expressed apprehension about the timing of the change — which came during spring break — while many others said they were relieved the school is rolling back restrictions.
“I kind of wish we’d wait it off a little bit, especially with everyone coming back for spring break,” said Jamal Nimer ’24.
Scott W. Arbery ’24 agreed the mask mandate was dropped “about a week premature,” but he said it was “about time” for Harvard to lift the requirement.
“I am surprised they did it this early,” said Robert M. “Bobby” McCarthy Jr. ’23.
Others said they trust the school to handle public health decisions.
“I personally trust the administration when it comes to data and health-based decisions they are making,” said Daniel Shin ’22.
In an email on March 7 announcing the changes to the school’s masking policies, Harvard’s top administrators wrote that “despite the large number of reported cases, there have been very few hospitalizations and no Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions this year.”
“Although public health authorities have concluded that the virus causing COVID is likely to continue to circulate among us like the cold or flu, the risks it poses for the health of our community can be managed effectively with less intrusive measures than before,” the email read.
Mask-usage has been mixed, with some students eager to pull them off and others more apprehensive.
“It’s not necessarily something I feel comfortable with taking off yet,” said Sonya R. Ganeshram ’24. “It’s important to protect my own health, but also protect the health of the people around me.”
Other undergrads are comfortable saying goodbye to face coverings with case counts down across the country.
“I feel comfortable not wearing it,” said Sawyer B. Cooper ’24.
Still, he said, “If I’m ever in doubt of whether I am healthy or not, then I’ll wear a mask.”
Niara C. Botchwey ’23, who previously contracted Covid-19, said she would be personally comfortable taking off her mask. However, she said she would continue to wear one in common spaces out of respect for others.
“Particularly in common spaces, for people like dining hall workers that need to be here, I think it just makes sense to have that sense of safety for them,” she said.
Some students said they would take a hybrid approach, continuing to mask in crowded areas, but not small groups.
“I’ll probably keep masking for now,” Nimer said. “Maybe not in smaller social environments — but in bigger social environments, I’ll absolutely be masked and probably encouraging some of my friends to stay masked for now.”
Others said they would wait to see how case numbers look post-spring break before making a decision.
“My plan right now is to continue wearing a mask,” George C. Guarnieri III ’22 said. “I’m definitely open to taking off by the end of the semester, obviously seeing how things go.”
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