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As ‘mask fatigue’ sets in, mask mandate enforcement wanes across campus

File Photo by Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor
Students in the University Student Center sat masked at tables during the spring 2022 semester, only removing their masks to eat.

Students are retiring their masks in classrooms and on the Mount Vernon Express without reprimand from faculty or staff while GW’s mask mandate in instructional and transportation settings remains in place.

Students said they’ve been experiencing “mask fatigue” on campus in light of recent relaxations to mask and testing policies this semester, pulling back from the added “hassle” of masking in required on-campus areas. More than 40 students said they’ve noticed their peers attending classes and boarding the Vex unmasked while faculty and staff fail to enforce GW’s mandate. 

Officials updated GW’s mask policy earlier this month to only require masking in indoor instructional settings, GW-operated transportation and University health care facilities after requiring masks in all indoor spaces through the majority of the pandemic. During the summer, the University transitioned to an isolation-in-place policy for students who test positive for COVID and dropped its asymptomatic testing requirement, leaving high-risk students concerned about asymptomatic cases going unnoticed.

University spokesperson Tim Pierce said masks continue to be mandatory in classrooms and lecture halls as well as on the Vex, the Virginia Science and Technology Campus Express and inside SafeRide vehicles. 

“The University will continue to monitor rates of COVID-19 on its campuses and in the region and will revisit the masking instructions as appropriate,” Pierce said in an email. 

Esabella Vasquez, a freshman studying international affairs, said she has noticed a “majority” of students ride the Vex unmasked, but she continues to wear a mask while commuting for her own comfort and to comply with University policy. She said she feels uneasy sitting near students commuting without masks in an enclosed space, especially if they are showing signs of sickness.

“If someone’s coughing and you’re behind me or you’re next to me, I’m going to get uncomfortable, especially if you’re not wearing a mask,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said she hasn’t seen Vex drivers enforcing the policy during rides, but hopes University staff enforce the mask mandate in all required settings including GW-operated transportation, where students are not socially distanced and gather in an enclosed space. Vex drivers are not employed by the University as contracted workers through RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation.

The University’s campus health guidelines state students, faculty and staff are expected to “commit and adhere to required health and safety guidelines established by GW policy and D.C. law but do not list any penalties for failing to wear a mask in required areas.

Vasquez said she’s comfortable remaining unmasked in open areas like the University Student Center, where masking is not required, because the open spaces are typically less crowded.

“In certain spaces it should be required, like the Vex, because it’s so many people so close together, but in open spaces, if you’re close to someone it’s typically because you’re friends with them,” she said of going unmasked.

Alexandra Kicior, a junior studying international affairs and a former Hatchet reporter, said she doesn’t consistently wear her mask on the Vex and makes her decision to wear one depending on how many people are seated near her and whether they are masked.

“Sometimes I’ll just go on and be like ‘Oh, there’s no one sitting around me. I don’t have to put it on’ or I don’t feel like I should,” Kicior said.

Kicior said she noticed the GW community shift into an eased attitude regarding COVID policy this semester in comparison to last year when cases were higher. She said her professors used to be stricter about enforcing the mask mandate in classes but have taken a more moderate approach this semester, choosing not to enforce the policy as many students opt to go maskless.

“Last year, they were enforcing the rules a lot more,” Kicior said. “And now it’s more relaxed.”

Rohan Bagli, a senior studying finance, said he remains maskless in some of his smaller classes with fewer than 50 students but continues to mask in larger lectures where he’s in close contact with more students. He said most of his professors haven’t actively enforced the mandate or even made statements about wearing masks in class.

“A lot of my classes have 20 to 30 kids in them, and there’s a lot of space between me and the other kids, so we don’t wear masks,” Bagli said. 

Bagli also said most students are tired of continuing to wear masks as COVID rates decrease on campus, and he thinks it’s an appropriate time for students to start pulling back on mask-wearing.

“I think a lot of us have mask fatigue,” Bagli said. “A lot of us are just a little bit tired of wearing them.”

Marianna Pecora, a freshman studying political communication, said she hasn’t seen any enforcement of the mask mandate on the Vex, which she hopes the University will do better to promote compliance with all University policies moving forward.

“If they’re going to keep a mandate in place, then there should be a more significant enforcement system,” Pecora said. “Because I think it sends a mixed message from administration to have a mandate but they’re not enforcing it.”

Grace Newman, a sophomore studying business analytics, said she only wears masks in the three classes where her professors enforce the mandate, but she chooses not to mask in her two classes where they are less strict. She said professors who regularly mention mask-wearing in class cause more students to wear them, but more students tend to go maskless if the professor doesn’t show interest in the issue.

“I feel like last year, everyone was more used to wearing them, and the teachers and professors enforced it more,” Newman said. “But after summer break and since we’ve been back, the students are less wanting to wear them, and the professors aren’t enforcing it as much. I feel like they’re also a little tired.”

Georgetown University scaled back its mask mandate last week, making masks optional in instructional spaces and in the library and dining halls, but requiring them in health care centers and on university shuttles and transportation. American University recommends masks in classrooms but only requires masking in on-campus medical facilities.

Faith Wardwell, Anna Fattizzo, Ingrid Hofmann and Hannah Marr contributed reporting.

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