After almost two full years of COVID rules, oscillating between strict and semi-strict, Springfield College is getting ready to roll back the majority of its regulations regarding masking indoors, along with immediately reducing the number of days students who test positive need to quarantine.
In an email sent to the College community on Thursday, Feb. 17, President Cooper and her leadership team announced that masks will be optional for fully vaccinated (meaning boosted) students everywhere on campus except when inside academic buildings, including the library, when the City of Springfield lifts its mandate. The City currently has a mask mandate that is scheduled to be reassessed on March 1, and the College anticipates it will be lifted.
Cooper also stated that the 10-day quarantine period the College currently holds for students who test positive will be reduced to a five-day quarantine, effective Monday, Feb. 21. Students who test negative on their sixth day and have been fever-free and without symptoms for the previous 24 hours will be allowed to leave isolation, but they will need to wear an N95 or KN95 mask at all times indoors upon release until day 10. However, if a student tests positive on their sixth-day retest, they will need to continue their quarantine until day 10.
This relaxation in regulations comes after Mass. Governor Baker announced the mask mandate in K-12 public schools will expire on Feb. 28 this past week. Cooper and her team have been following multiple different guidelines since the beginning of the pandemic, and said her most current intelligence has pointed the College in this direction.
“We have been looking at a variety of resources, not only the CDC and the City of Springfield,” said President Cooper.
“There is a group of presidents who meet every Friday; we’ve met since March 2020. It’s called ACUM, Association of Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts. There’s 64 schools and almost 64 presidents get on the phone at 11:00 a.m. every Friday morning and talk about COVID.”
Dr. Slandie Dieujuste, Vice President for Student Affairs, stated, “Mask wearing has certainly made communication much more difficult, as it has restricted our abilities to fully see facial expressions and read nonverbal cues. It has taken out some of the intimacy associated with communication and probably impacted how students connect on a personal level.
“We know that mask wearing slows the spread of the virus, but one of the things that I think it has also done is that it has encouraged us to listen more intently to better decipher what is being said… This pandemic has taught us that we do not live on an island by ourselves and that we have a responsibility towards one another.”
Springfield College’s positivity rate has remained low to this point in the semester and currently stands at 6.62% for the last 30 days. The majority of students who have tested positive have had mild symptoms and in addition to their compliance with the College’s COVID guidelines, Cooper said she wants to ensure students’ mental health is being protected too.
“Many staff and faculty have sponsored and supported students that are in isolation… It’s hard. I’m very concerned about students’ mental health, and the feelings of isolation and loneliness. I think the quicker we can get students out of isolation back into the community, as safely as possible, is really the guiding principle,” said Cooper.
When the City of Springfield lifts its mask mandate, fully vaccinated students will be allowed to be unmasked in all buildings on campus except for academic buildings and the library. This will include the PE Complex, the Union, Cheney Dining Hall and all residence buildings. The previous standard of a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated will hold, and is pivotal to being allowed without a mask in the designated locations.
Dieujuste is excited for what this means for the community as the semester continues.
“One of the things we have learned about this pandemic is that it is unpredictable. I am, however, encouraged by the signs pointing that we are progressing in the right direction. We hope to see rates of COVID-19 on our campus and in the community continue to decline and will respond to those changes thoughtfully and purposefully,” Dieujuste stated.
“I believe we will continue to see students being responsible in their decisions, particularly how they impact others in the Springfield College community.”
Photo Courtesy Springfield College