Professors pleased, students frustrated by reinstated indoor mask mandate

Indoor masking is now required in most public spaces, including dining halls and libraries.

by Andrew Sasser and Lauren Adler | 8/13/21 5:20am

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by Oliver De Jonghe / The Dartmouth Staff

Following the College’s announcement last week that the indoor mask mandate would be reestablished on campus, members of the on-campus community have expressed mixed feelings, but were not surprised, at the return of the policy.

“I certainly wasn’t surprised, and I agreed fully with the decision,” physics and astronomy professor Ryan Hickox said. “There were rising cases around the country and in New England, but also then there was a spike of people on campus, and so it seemed natural to me that we would want to have some response to that right away.”

Hickox, who has two young daughters who cannot yet receive the vaccine, said that for the first week of the term, he wore a mask while teaching in person. He switched to not wearing a mask when none of the COVID-19 tests administered to students upon arrival on campus came back positive, but began masking again days before the reestablishment of the mandate when he noticed a spike in cases on Dartmouth’s COVID-19 dashboard

Public policy  professor Charles Wheelan also said that he was “not surprised” by the decision to reinstate the indoor mask mandate, as many other schools and businesses have reimplemented mask mandates. Wheelan said that because he was going to serve as a stem cell transplant donor for his brother, he and students in his class began to wear masks prior to the new mandate. 

“For me, keeping everyone in person and keeping a low caseload for a normal fall is my number one priority,” Wheelan said. “Anything we can do to make that happen is worth doing in my mind.” 

Some students, however, have voiced frustrations with the mask mandate.

Marc Novicoff ’22 said that he felt “pretty disappointed” with the College when the mandate was reinstated. He added that because of the 94% vaccination rate on campus and the fact that over 90% of people ages 65 and older are vaccinated in Grafton County, he felt that the mask mandate isn’t doing much to protect people.

“During the height of the pandemic, I was more than willing to take a few small hits to my life by wearing a mask to protect the elderly and immunocompromised,” Novicoff said. “Now the vaccine is free and readily available to all, and I don’t feel that by wearing a mask I’m really helping anyone.”

Novicoff added that he feels that those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine don’t have to “worry about” getting severe disease and that he does not feel “remotely in danger” from COVID-19. He added that those who are unvaccinated should get vaccinated. 

Max Weintraub ’22 said that he felt the decision to reinstate the mandate was “really stupid” and “anti-scientific.” He also said that the requirement contradicts information about the effectiveness of vaccines. 

“Anyone in our age group is already at low risk of getting a serious infection, and with vaccination, that number plummets even more,” Weintraub said. “[At the time of the mandate], we only had eight cases — mostly among vaccinated individuals — and yet that was enough for them to bring the mandate back.”

“Some people, most of my friends, are choosing to comply, I just think because they’re more spineless than I am,” he continued. “I think it’s just totally wrong.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all three approved COVID-19 vaccines “continue to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death” and “fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections from [the Delta variant] appear to be infectious for a shorter period.” The CDC recommends both vaccination and wearing masks in indoor public spaces to reduce the spread of the Delta variant. 

Weintraub added that he has not been wearing a mask anywhere on campus unless instructed to do so and that he has had conversations with his professors and College staff about the mandate. He also mentioned that prior to vaccination, he would “always” wear a mask when around others, but he now feels that there is no “no reason” for him to wear one.

Weintraub also noted that workers at various DDS locations, and specifically at ’53 Commons, are “choosing to enforce” the mask mandate, and said that he now “can’t go up and out of my seat without someone kind of eyeing me down or saying something” about masking.

According to ’53 Commons general manager Brandon Crosby, “the overwhelming majority of students that we see are complying with the mask mandate.”

Correction appended (1:55 p.m., August 13, 2021): A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Marc Novicoff as saying that the Department of Safety and Security is ”waiting outside” ’53 Commons and classrooms to enforce the mandate, and that he believes no one should be enforcing it. He actually stated that Safety and Security is not doing so. The quote has been removed. 

Correction appended (5:40 p.m., August 13, 2021): A previous version of the first correction attributed the quote to Max Weintraub. The quote in question was from Marc Novicoff. The correction has been updated. 

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