Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornell students have donned masks of all kinds ranging from handmade cloth masks to medical-grade KN-95s. But due to the University’s updated masking guidelines for the spring 2022 semester — part of a broader set of changes to COVID-19-prevention procedures, announced on Jan. 6 — Cornellians will see far fewer cloth masks around campus.
According to the University, cloth masks are no longer approved unless worn with a procedural or surgical mask. Acceptable masks now include any procedure or surgical mask, and masks with KN95, FFP2, KF94 or NIOSH N95 certifications. The University stated that students who cannot obtain acceptable masks on their own can receive them at testing sites across campus.
Many students agreed that this policy was necessary to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Recent data from the Center for Disease Control indicating that higher quality masks are more effective in stopping Omicron transmission convinced Zander Knight ’25 that the rule was necessary.
“Personally, I think it’s a good rule…I think it’s long overdue,” Knight said.
Some students expressed that they didn’t know about the new masking rule until being interviewed by The Sun. Joaquin Paz ’25 was among them, and he said that he approved of the new rule once informed.
“If we have the means to protect ourselves, we should,” Paz said. “Omicron is more contagious, by a long shot, than regular COVID-19.”
While the new rules do force some students to change their masking habits if they were previously using cloth masks alone, Jacob Linderoth ’25 said that he’s satisfied with the new rules and does not think that the masks present an undue burden to wearers.
“I don’t really see a huge difference between wearing a cloth mask and a KN-95 mask,” Linderoth said.
To ensure that these new masking rules are followed, the University has laid out specific measures, including community enforcement and messaging.
Students expressed mixed opinions on how the University should enforce its new mask requirements.
Instead of the University outlining specific punishments, Knight said he favors a more decentralized approach.
“I think that the enforcement [of these rules] should be left up to professors… [but also] I think there should be some sort of system in place [for punishment],” Knight said.
However, Linderoth said that students wearing lower quality cloth masks shouldn’t be punished at all.
“Personally, I don’t see it as such a huge deal… I would be fine with it,” Linderoth said.
But for immunocompromised individuals like Katherine Meluni ’22, masks are a crucial barrier to severe infection.
“I’ve been a Type-1 diabetic for sixteen years,” Meluni said. “When I see somebody not wearing a mask, it makes me really uncomfortable because I’m afraid for my own health.”
However, even those supporting the change are less sure on how to enforce it against violators. Meluni said she favors simply telling those who don’t wear acceptable masks to put one on, and providing one to them.
Despite the pandemic, Meluni said she is hopeful for the efficacy of the University’s COVID-19 regulations as the spring semester begins.
“I think Cornell’s response has been pretty good,” Meluni said. “So, I don’t think they’ll stop being good now.”