College Removes Mask Mandate, Mandatory Testing as Vaccination Rate Reaches 80 Percent


Madison Olsen

Last week, Oberlin College announced it would relax several ObieSafe guidelines in light of new CDC recommendations for vaccinated individuals. The College will now allow vaccinated students to gather indoors and outdoors without masks but recommends that unvaccinated students and staff continue to mask.

After two semesters of strict COVID-19 health restrictions, the College lifted several safety measures — including mask-wearing and testing. The news comes as the College has reached the 80 percent vaccination threshold this week, with 81 percent of the summer campus community vaccinated as of May 27. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced he would remove statewide COVID-19 restrictions on June 2. 

COVID-19 Campus Health Coordinator Katie Gravens sent an email to incoming students on May 17 detailing the revised COVID-19 protocols for the summer semester. The email stated that the College will lift the mask mandate for all vaccinated students — both indoors and outdoors. Unvaccinated students are still required to wear masks outdoors when in close proximity to others and at all times when indoors. 

All athletics will return to normal operations, including competitions and games for on-campus athletes. Fully vaccinated visitors will be allowed on campus and within campus buildings without a mask. Though discouraged from visiting, unvaccinated visitors that come to Oberlin must wear a mask indoors and maintain physical distance. 

The College will also continue to phase out testing. Required monthly tests for all students will end on June 1. On June 2, limitations on indoor capacity will be lifted and daily symptom surveys will no longer be required to enter campus buildings. In coordination with AVI Foodsystems, the College will gradually phase in regular dining services over the coming weeks. 

“Oberlin’s students, faculty, and staff have, once again, shown their commitment to the community by uploading vaccination cards, allowing us to achieve an 81 percent vaccination rate, with numbers increasing daily,” Gravens wrote in an email to the Review. “The response of the campus this year, along with high vaccination rates and decreasing infections, makes us confident that mandates are no longer necessary. Our new approach will be one of individual self-monitoring regarding the health and safety measures needed for individual circumstances.”  

Gravens cited Governor Mike Dewine’s decision to ease almost all COVID-19 restrictions in Ohio, as well as the support of the Lorain County Public Health Department, who reviewed the updated ObieSafe protocols. 

“The Lorain Public Health Department indicated that COVID management will be similar to the flu, with vaccinations key to prevention,” Gravens wrote. “Although we don’t know the impact of future COVID variants, the high rate of vaccination on campus will most likely minimize infection.” 

As the first week of classes — required to be remote-accessible — comes to a close, many students are excited to socialize more freely. College third-year Clare Tiedemann expressed excitement about the freedom afforded by the College this summer.

“I’m just excited to see people’s faces when I talk,” Tiedemann said. “Track practice will be nice, not having masks. I think just overall socialization in general is a lot less stressful and confusing.”

Tiedemann also explained some of the confusion she and her peers have felt in response to the transition away from mask-wearing. 

“It is a little bit disorienting that we found out [a few days] before classes started that they were easing up on restrictions,” Tiedemann said. “So it feels like everyone’s a little uncertain whether to wear masks or not around campus.” 

College third-year Miranda Harris also expressed concern about the abrupt change in guidance. 

“I notice a lot [of] people will say, ‘If you’re not vaccinated, then you can keep your mask on,’” Harris said. “But I think we forget that there’s a lot of other reasons that people would want to keep their mask on. Personally, I am [immunocompromised], and even though I’ve been fully vaccinated for months, I still wear a mask everywhere. There’s a lot of people who aren’t going to ever want to go fully back to normal and it may not ever be safe for them to, because it was already kind of unsafe for them. I just hope that all of the awareness and the accessibility options that have become available now that they are needed by everyone remain available after all of this is said and done for most people.” 

In her May 17 email, Gravens gave recommendations to students that are willing and able to meet their friends face-to-face.

“Each individual should assess the personal risk involved in gathering with others,” Gravens wrote. “Ideally, individuals will self-disclose vaccination status.” 

Still, Harris highlighted that COVID-19 safety concerns extend beyond the student population.

“Even though the students [are] approaching 80 percent vaccination, we have to be mindful of [people] beyond immunocompromised students, faculty, and staff — especially staff — it’s a courtesy to them to wear a mask,” said Harris. “There’s a lot of conversation here about workers’ rights and I think that … if workers are really our family, we will take care of them and their health like they are our own.”

Harris also worries that a sudden return to masklessness after more than a year of mask-wearing and vigilant personal hygiene may lead to other illnesses. 

“We haven’t been breathing the same air as anybody else, we’ve been sanitizing our hands, and then all of [the precautions] stop and you’re just going to get really normal-sick,” Harris said. “I hope everyone will take care of their health and be careful and be aware of those things.”

Gravens discussed similar issues in her campus-wide email, expressing hope that students will maintain and keep track of their health throughout the semester.

“Each person is encouraged to monitor their health on a daily basis,” Gravens wrote. “Students who do not feel well should contact Student Health, who will follow standard protocols for quarantine. Faculty and staff should contact their health care provider. Individuals should stay home if they have a fever or other symptoms that may spread infection to others.”

For unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff, optional PCR testing will be available by appointment throughout the month of June, three days a week. After that, symptomatic COVID-19 testing will be available to students in Student Health.