Campus Mask Mandates Return

UCLA, U of Hawai‘i and Penn State are among the colleges restoring the requirement.

May 31, 2022
A woman with dark hair wears a surgical mask.
(University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa)

The University of California, Los Angeles, restored its indoor mask mandate last week, joining the University of Hawai‘i system, Pennsylvania State University (for both the main campus and 13 others), and other colleges and universities.

“The past few weeks have revealed a consistent rise in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County and on our campus. Last week alone, UCLA had close to 870 new cases, which, per the UCLA COVID-19 Pivot Matrix, would place us at the ‘severe’ level,” said a letter announcing the mandate.

The letter outlined limited cases where masks may be removed: performance arts rehearsals and performances, indoor dining, and when alone in one's room.

At commencement, June 10-12, all attendees must wear masks indoors, but speakers may remove their masks for their addresses, and graduates “may momentarily remove their masks while walking across the stage and while being photographed on or adjacent to the stage,” the letter said. (UCLA operates on a quarter system, and the spring quarter classes are not over until June 3.) Other institutions that have announced mask mandates have already had commencement and are in summer sessions, or their renewed mandates were announced just prior to commencement.

UCLA also said weekly testing for COVID-19 will continue until June 15.

For colleges, indoor mask mandates were a key part of their response during earlier peaks of the pandemic. The lifting of mask mandates was seen by many as a sign that the pandemic was behind us. But most of the colleges are citing rising COVID-19 cases as a reason for their actions. Here are some of the colleges restoring mask mandates:

  • Penn State University. On Friday, the university restored mask mandates for the university’s main campus and the Penn State campuses at Beaver, Greater Allegheny, New Kensington and Schuylkill. The university previously announced that masks were required at the campuses in Abington, Behrend, Brandywine, Great Valley, Hazleton, Lehigh Valley, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. The College of Medicine also continues to require masks indoors. Penn State said it acted on the basis of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on county COVID-19 rates.
  • University of Hawai‘i system. The system restored its mask mandate for the entire university system except when people are working in a room alone or at least six feet from others. “The indoor face mask requirement will remain in place and be re-evaluated when the level of COVID-19 transmission in the state decreases,” the university said.
  • University of Pittsburgh. The university on Friday cited the CDC in restoring the requirements for the Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Titusville campuses. Masks remain optional on the Johnstown and Bradford campuses.
  • Provost Robin Morgan, Lou Rossi, dean of the Graduate College, and President Dennis Assanis, all wearing graduation robes and caps. Rossi is holding the university's mace.University of Delaware. The university imposed an indoor mask requirement last week, citing “rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations around the country, including in Delaware over the past week.” The university permitted people to be outdoors without a mask, but administrators at commencement appeared with masks outdoors (photo at right shows, from left, Provost Robin Morgan; Lou Rossi, dean of the Graduate College; and President Dennis Assanis).

All of those colleges acted last week. Some of the colleges that acted earlier to restore indoor mask mandates include Gallaudet, Georgetown, Howard, Johns Hopkins and Rice Universities; and the University of Rochester.  California State University, Los Angeles never removed its mask mandate.

Rochester had promised when instituting its mandate on April 15 to update the policy in early May. On May 4, Rochester announced, “Campus health officials believe indoor masking has reduced the number of COVID infections among students in recent days. Based on the effectiveness of the mask requirement in returning COVID cases to more manageable levels, as well as the still relatively high rate of COVID infections in the greater Rochester community and in New York State—the current face mask policy will remain in place for now, including at indoor commencement ceremonies and events.”

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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