Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

Vaccinated students no longer need to wear masks outdoors when socially distanced, according to new guidelines.

May 11, 2021

‘I Want to Feel Like This Is Ending’: Vaccinated Students Unmask After New Guidelines

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When Kristinko Mato ’24 goes on runs around Beebe Lake, he is no longer required to wear his mask. Jade Ovadia ’21 can avoid a mask tan when she gathers with her friends on Libe Slope. These are just some of the privileges that Mato and Ovadia have been granted as fully vaccinated students on Cornell’s campus. 

As more than half of the on-campus population has completed their doses and waited two weeks to reach full immunity, some students said they’re excited for more opportunities to gather in-person. But others said they worried about unknown vaccination statuses, as around 40 percent of campus still isn’t fully vaccinated, according to Cornell’s COVID tracking dashboard

According to the University’s new guidelines announced May 3, those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks when they gather outdoors with 10 or fewer people. Student organizations can also hold masked gatherings of up to 30 people with both unvaccinated and vaccinated students. 

The announcement came a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask wearing guidelines for fully-vaccinated individuals.

Ella Yitzhaki ’24, who will be fully vaccinated on May 18, said she believes students will take these new guidelines and their benefits as a sign to get vaccinated. But Yitzhaki said that because she doesn’t know the vaccination status of others, she doesn’t want to risk spreading the virus to them. 

“At this point, I expect everyone to have the basic decency to wear a mask, even if they might be half vaccinated or fully vaccinated, just until a certain majority of the world feels safe,” Yitzhaki said.

Fatima Al-Sammak ’24 received her second dose and is waiting her two weeks to be fully vaccinated. She said that the loosened restrictions on mask wearing outdoors is a reminder that campus is on the cusp of normalcy. 

“I know it’s not going to be perfectly normal until maybe the fall, but I want to feel like this is ending,” Al-Sammak said. “I want to feel like we’re going toward something that resembles normalcy.” 

Al-Sammak isn’t the only one enjoying the changes that the new policies allow. When Mato and his friend went for a run around Beebe Lake, they were able to take off their masks.

“It felt weird because it’s a very minor thing and it doesn’t bother me much at this point, but it definitely felt nice,” Mato said. “Around Beebe the flowers smelled nice, I had missed this experience.”

The increased gathering capacity guidelines for student organizations also come as a relief for clubs and organizations centered around in-person events, providing hope for more in-person activities in the fall. 

Ovadia has been fully vaccinated since mid-April and is co-president of the Willard Straight Hall Student Union Board. She said that she is looking forward to continuing in-person Cornell traditions like Club Fest and the annual Willard Straight Hall TGIF event in the fall semester. 

“To be able to see one of my fellow Cornellians enjoying one of these events brings me so much joy [and] so much pride in being a Cornellian, because it shows this resilience that we can survive anything,” Ovadia said.  

But some students said they worried that these guidelines didn’t allow them to check that those they interact with are vaccinated. 

Kate Slinchenkova ’22, who has been fully vaccinated for over a month, said though loosening restrictions for in-person gatherings may support students’ mental health, she is concerned about the risk of unvaccinated individuals being exposed to the virus. 

“Loosening guidelines is a nice beacon of hope, but I don’t think they’re really strong enough to give you a sense of freedom,” Slinchenkova said. 

For Mato, who recently became fully vaccinated, this progress feels reassuring as the University prepares for an in-person fall semester.

“It just reminds you that this collective effort of the entire community is really paying off. We cannot always see the direct impact with our own eyes but we can see it in the numbers,” Mato said. “It’s nice to see that we are coming together in this sense and wrapping up the semester as safely as possible.”