Stanford to lift classroom masking requirement

One of the last COVID requirements remaining, classroom masking will finally go next Monday

Oct. 17, 2022, 11:47 p.m.

Stanford will no longer require masks in classrooms starting next Monday, according to an email sent to students Monday morning from Vaden Executive Director Jim Jacobs and Associate Vice Provost of Environmental Health & Safety Russell Furr.

The announcement follows the recent decline in COVID-19 cases on campus, with 39 positive student test results in the week of Sept. 26 and 21 in the week of Oct. 3. The case counts mark a steep decline from the numbers during spring quarter, when some weeks saw more than 200 positive student tests. The lower positive case counts, however, coincide with the University’s decision to stop requiring regular testing for students on campus this fall.

Reactions on campus were mixed following the announcement, with some looking forward to interacting with classmates face-to-face and others concerned about the threat posed by the spread of COVID-19.

Program on Science, Technology & Society director Paul Edwards said of the new mask guidelines that there is “no evidence in the medical literature to suggest that taking off masks and doing nothing to prevent its spread is a good idea.” 

Edwards is immunocompromised and has leukemia, making the issue of COVID-19 especially salient.

“I only have half of the functioning immune system,” he said. “While people with my disease have gotten COVID and recovered, not everyone has, and the risk of dying is higher for me. With respect to masking, it’s the most important thing it does to stop people who are sick from spreading it to other people.”

Classroom masking guidelines were also an issue on the table at the Oct. 6 Faculty Senate meeting. 

When asked by political science professor Judy Goldstein to clarify mask requirements, following what Goldstein described as a lack of clarity surrounding classroom masking enforcement, Provost Persis Drell said that the guidelines were under review and that more information would be released soon. 

“I think that our peers are not consistent with what they are doing, but most of them are, in fact, moving away from the mask mandate. I think the key for us is how to do that in a way that, for our faculty who wish to continue to have a mask mandate in the classroom, we support them,” she said.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton also currently have mask-optional policies inside classrooms. 

Aligning with Drell’s statement, individual instructors will continue to have the option of requiring masks during class, according to the email, which added that instructors who are planning to require masks during their classes should inform students in advance.

Students said in interviews before the announcement that they had mixed feelings about the existing regulations.

Shree Ghosh ’26 said that if it were up to her, she would “probably not wear a mask inside classrooms, but it doesn’t hurt to be more safe.” 

“I’ll wear it when they tell me to wear it,” she said.

Another student, Riley Casagrande ’24, said that prior to the announcement, enforcement of current masking guidelines already varied from class to class.

 “Some professors enforce it pretty strongly, and then there are some classes where 50% of the class doesn’t wear masks,” said Casagrande.

Chandra Vadhana R., a visiting postdoc fellow at the Gendered Innovations Lab, said that there is already a balance between students and faculty wearing masks on campus. 

“It has become something of a personal choice right now, to wear it or not. I think that’s fine,” she said.

The email also announced that masking will also become optional on the Marguerite shuttle, Stanford’s free shuttle service, but will continue to be required in healthcare facilities.

Jacobs and Furr also advised students to “stay up to date on COVID immunizations,” citing the new bivalent booster in particular. The boosters are available for free at the Vaden Health Center. Although surveillance testing is no longer mandatory, students should continue to test if they feel any symptoms or have concerns about possible exposure at the Stanford testing locations, the email said.

Mackenzie Cobb is a writer for the Stanford Daily. Contact them at 'news' at stanforddaily.com.

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