After around two years of masks in classrooms, the day has come when they are no longer required. This may come as a relief for some, as we all want to return back to normal, but it can certainly affect many others.
Some students, faculty and staff — especially those who are at increased risk for the COVID-19 pandemic — find this change to be worrisome. With the inability to move classes online, class instructors should be able to regulate the mask requirements for their own classrooms.
Following the Orange County Health Department’s mask requirement for public, indoor spaces, the University will lift the indoor mask mandate for most of campus effective March 7.
This comes at a time of decreasing COVID-19 cases on campus and in local communities, but with more contagious variants continuing to spread, the University should continue to protect more vulnerable populations by upholding the mask requirement in classrooms.
“There are plenty of people who are asymptomatic or nonsymptomatic and I think this is just asking for trouble,” said Sharon L. James, a professor of Classics and an adjunct member of comparative literature and women’s and gender studies department at UNC. “There's literally no harm in asking people to finish this school year while wearing masks. It doesn't harm anybody.”
Faculty should have the ability to consult with students about how to proceed with classroom mask policies in a way that suits the students, faculty and classroom needs.
Lecture halls with 100 people can be petri dishes for students and faculty who are at increased risk for COVID-19, and there should be an option for instructors and students to discuss how they will proceed with masks in each individual classroom.
“I think that faculty would be happy to consult with their students … and take into account the rooms, the physical space you're in, if you have a smallish number of people in a room with good circulation, and so forth,” James said.
The University announced in its recent email concerning the updated mask requirements that faculty members should not change the mode of instruction of a course due to the change in mask requirements. Although in-person learning is widely preferred compared to online, optional masks coupled with in-person instruction is concerning for many students and faculty.
“I would like to encourage undergraduates not to feel afraid, or embarrassed for wearing masks,” James said. “That way you're doing what you can to protect yourself and protect other people.”
While we should continue to remain hopeful for the future, it is important to consider those who are more at risk for severe illness associated with COVID-19. Continuing to wear a mask in classrooms for the remainder of the school year is a small step we can take to protect our fellow students, faculty and staff here at UNC.
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