College Returns to Full Masking as COVID Cases Spike


Khadijah Halliday

Revised COVID-19 guidelines require that students continue to wear masks in indoor spaces such as Mudd Center.

On Wednesday, the College announced that it would loosen its mask mandate by making masks optional in dorms and residential areas. Less than 48 hours after the announcement, the College reversed the decision after receiving reports of over 70 COVID-19 cases on campus.

In an ObieSafe email sent Thursday evening, the College explained that due to the sudden rise in cases, it would revert to the stricter masking policy it had in place in February. 

“Students, faculty, and staff should wear masks when indoors and near others in academic buildings and residence halls,” read Thursday’s announcement. “Student-athletes should wear masks during indoor meetings and in the weight room. During practices and competition, student-athletes are exempt from wearing masks. Dining halls also will remain open with social distancing, with grab-and-go options available as well.”

Case numbers began rising after students returned to campus from spring break. Between the end of break and the first announcement, the College recorded 46 positive cases. After its initial announcement, the College received reports of 71 additional positive cases. 

“We said that we would evaluate roughly 10 days after the return of students,” said Chief of Staff David Hertz. “We thought that if students came back with COVID, that we would see it in the numbers … and that we would have a pretty good grasp of where we were with COVID on campus. We were off by a day, as it turns out.” 

Some students have noticed cases increasing, and many are glad that the College is reversing course. 

“I’m immunocompromised, and it definitely made me really nervous with them taking the mask mandate away, especially because, seeing how many people in my classes are out because of COVID and people all across campus testing positive, it seems like a really unwise decision to me,” said College fourth-year Zoë Luh. “So I’m really glad that they are putting the mask mandate back in place.”

Despite the rise in cases, the College maintains that students are well-protected from serious illness due to high vaccination rates, which is why it originally considered relaxing the mandate. 

“I think we took into account that we are 95 percent boosted,” said Terri Buzzell, director of nursing operations at Harness Health Partners and Oberlin’s medical consultant, in a conversation with the Review on Wednesday. “The cases we do have are mild, zero hospitalizations.” 

At this time, the College expects for the new, more stringent policy to remain in place for the rest of the semester. Additionally, Hertz emphasized that the College has always taken into account recommendations from public health experts.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have sought the advice of experts, and our local experts are no longer suggesting that masks be mandated indoors,” Hertz said. “So at times throughout the pandemic, we have exceeded the recommendations of experts, and that’s why we continue to do so now, because we know that our community has still got a level of concern that doesn’t support a full relaxation of the mandate and that’s entirely reasonable.”