Before Cornell University announced an easing of face mask requirements for the majority of on-campus locations on March 14—following more lenient guidelines by the Tompkins County Health Department—another school in Ithaca had already experimented with such a significant step towards pre-pandemic normalcy: Ithaca College.
On March 4, just over a week before Cornell’s policy change, Ithaca College removed its mask mandate entirely. Although faculty members were given the option of enforcing mask policies within their own classrooms, Ithaca College students were given free reign over whether they chose to mask up.
However, some Ithaca College students question the decision of lifting the mask mandate. Luke Haworth, an Ithaca College student, explained that many professors feel burdened with the new responsibility of deciding whether they should continue to enforce mask wearing in class.
Another Ithaca College student, Abby Kimerling, noted that professors often pleaded with students to continue wearing masks in class, citing family members, and especially young children, as at risk of exposure.
Some students also questioned the timing of the mandate lift.
“Putting [away mask restrictions] right before spring break is interesting because a lot of people are going to come back with [COVID-19],” Haworth said.
The long term effects of the easing of mask mandates at Ithaca College are difficult to decipher as of now—students only had a week of eased masked restrictions before heading off for vacation this week.
Regardless of whether students agree with the logistics behind the new policy, many students are relieved that masking is now a choice, not a requirement.
“It’s nice that people have the option—I know there are a lot of people that still would like to wear masks… and there are people that don’t,” Ithaca College student Erin Mosely said. “I think [the option] is a good thing.”
The announcement came weeks after Ithaca College became COVID-test optional, although a positive test will still result in quarantine dorm placement at Emerson Hall, a residence hall on campus. According to Haworth, many students tend to forgo University-sponsored testing, instead taking store-bought rapid tests and quarantining themselves in their own living quarters.
Students also have mixed feelings on how long the mask mandate will remain lifted. Many believe a revival of the mandate will depend largely on whether a COVID-19 spike occurs after spring break. However, hope remains that the mask era can finally be left behind.
“I feel like [being mask optional] will stay… I just have a feeling,” Kimerling said.
As of March 14, Cornell University has limited its mask mandate to only lecture halls, public transportation and smaller classrooms.