College reinstates mask mandate in public indoor spaces

Sofie Jones and Irene Loewenson

Masks will be required in all academic and administrative buildings as of tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 11, regardless of people’s vaccination status, President Maud S. Mandel announced in an all-campus email this morning. 

There is still no mask requirement outdoors or in enclosed private offices. For now, the fewer than 100 students on campus may continue to go unmasked in residence halls and in dining halls when they reopen for indoor dining, but Mandel stressed that the “rules could and may need to change as additional people return, or as the pandemic evolves.”

This announcement marks a change from the masking policy Mandel outlined in an all-campus email on Monday, Aug. 2, which required masking only for unvaccinated people. That initial email responded to revised masking guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending indoor masking in areas of “high” or “substantial” risk. At the time of Mandel’s email, Berkshire County was designated as an area of substantial, but not high, risk of COVID-19 transmission.

But on Saturday, Berkshire County became one of six Massachusetts counties to be designated by the CDC as high-risk. Mandel’s email cites the move up from “substantial risk” and a rise in local cases as reasons for the policy change. 

Berkshire County had the second-highest transmission levels in the state last week, with around 135 new cases. This puts it behind only Barnstable County, home to the Provincetown cluster. According to the CDC’s website, 46.6 percent of Berkshire County residents are fully vaccinated. More than 95 percent of students, however, are fully vaccinated, Mandel noted in today’s email. Students are required to be vaccinated unless they have a medical or religious exemption; those who lack access to vaccines over the summer must get vaccinated upon returning to campus.

The College’s shift in masking policy comes as colleges across the county have reinstated mask mandates for certain indoor settings in light of rising cases and new information about the transmissibility of the Delta variant.

Mandel’s email also announced that the College will still allow visitors to come to campus, including for outdoor-only admissions tours. The libraries also plan on allowing masked visitors later this month. Dormitories, however, will be closed to guests except during move-in.

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