On March 8, 2022, Drew University announced that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, would no longer be required to wear masks in most on-campus locations. This announcement followed a similar statement from New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy, who lifted the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency status and removed the statewide school and daycare mask mandate, effective March 7, 2022. Murphy cited the recent movement of COVID-19 from a pandemic to an endemic as one of several reasons behind his decision. In addition to lifting the mask mandate, Drew suspended the weekly surveillance testing of unvaccinated individuals.
While the mask mandate has been removed from most campus locations, masks are still required in Health Services and as part of quarantine and isolation protocols, including those who are identified as close contacts. An important part of this new policy is that gathering leaders—for instance, professors teaching a class or club leaders running meetings— reserve the right to require masks at their discretion. Some teachers have chosen to issue surveys to students as a way to measure comfortability. Some clubs have decided masks are not required but “strongly encouraged” for meetings.
Drew’s vaccine mandate is still in effect. All students, faculty, staff and contact workers were required to receive a COVID-19 booster by March 31, 2022. Some exemptions have been offered, but the mandate applied to the vast majority of the Drew campus. Drew has cited the vaccine mandate as a critical tool in preventing illness and the rise of COVID cases on campus. At this time, Drew’s COVID-19 dashboard remains at green, otherwise known as low alert.
A potential factor in both the decision to lift the mask mandate and in the campus’s low alert status could be Drew’s size. As a smaller school, Drew has benefited from close monitoring and contact tracing throughout the campus community. Still, many are feeling apprehensive about the lifted mask mandate given the many large gatherings coming in the second half of the semester, including musicals, dance shows, graduation and more.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Since the mask mandate was lifted, I have been attending fewer campus events because I am afraid of increased covid spread.” The student said they felt as though they were having to choose between social interaction and covid safely and said that it was anxiety-inducing. They were glad that clubs could reinstate mask requirements for their events, although wished more would be mask-required occasions.
Despite concerns, many are choosing to unmask according to Drew’s protocols and appreciate the sense of normalcy and community that has come from the mask lift.
Another anonymous student said, “We’re almost done with the year, and I’m just now starting to see what some of my classmates or professors look like. It’s the first bit of normal we’ve had in a while.”
As the situation continues to unfold, ongoing discussion with Drew’s administration will be beneficial. Students may reach out to the administration directly or speak to Student Government about their concerns to have those messages relayed. Student Government meets Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in EC 145 or via Zoom and can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.