Stanford will lift its indoor mask mandate on Wednesday in accordance with new Santa Clara County guidelines, but will strongly recommend masking on-site regardless of vaccination status, according to a Tuesday email from the University.
The announcement follows the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s announcement of a transition away from an indoor mask mandate to “a strong recommendation.” Santa Clara County is the last county in the Bay Area to lift its mask mandate following California’s decision to lift the statewide mandate on Feb. 15. Now, amid sharply decreasing case numbers, both county-wide and at Stanford, the University is relaxing its requirements.
“With this transition, we encourage everyone to respect the choices that individuals will make about their own masking in many settings,” Provost Persis Drell wrote in the email. “We expect that some members of our community will choose to continue masking in meetings and other indoor settings, for example.”
Masking will still be required in classrooms until the beginning of spring quarter, but “individuals may remove face coverings while speaking,” Drell wrote. Stanford will also continue to require face coverings in health facilities and public transit, including Marguerite buses and vans and carts with multiple people. Childcare facilities will continue to require masking until March 11.
Drell added that departments and units should not make their masking requirements more restrictive than the University’s.
In Santa Clara County, the policy change is a sign of public health progress — this week, the county reached all three COVID-19 benchmarks it had previously set, according to a press release. COVID-19 cases in the county have remained under 550 cases each day for a week, and the county reached the other benchmarks of an 80% vaccination rate along with stable COVID-19 hospitalizations last month.
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department still strongly recommends masking in indoor public settings, due to concerns of at-risk populations and the effects of long-COVID. The state of California continues to require masking in high-risk settings such as K-12 schools, public transportation, healthcare facilities and long-term care facilities.
Still, Stanford’s decision to lift the mask mandate may only be temporary. The last time that Stanford suspended its masking requirement was in June 2021, but the policy was reinstated in August following a rise in COVID-19 cases on campus.
Drell specified that the policies are subject to change, noting that the University will “monitor conditions and re-evaluate” the classroom masking requirement after the beginning of spring quarter.