On March 26, the University of Maine issued a statement regarding an update to its masking policy. The statement declared that masks are now optional in indoor and outdoor spaces for students, staff, faculty and visitors, effective March 26. This policy also declared that masks were optional for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
Masks are still required in classrooms, research spaces and instructional areas, unless faculty members have given explicit permission otherwise. Masks are also required for UMS events which host over 75 people, unless it is an event which requires proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results.
This update to UMaine’s masking policies comes after a number of other universities in the region waived their requirements. Institutions including Husson University and Colby College waived their masking requirements earlier this March in accordance with the updated Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
While faculty have been given the ability to choose whether or not to uphold the old masking policy, students have expressed mixed feelings toward the update. Many students still wear masks in public spaces to limit the risks of spreading the virus.
Teddy Fegly, a fourth-year psychology and history student, spoke to the reasons why he chooses to wear masks in public spaces.
“I usually wear a mask everywhere I go anyways,” Fegly said. “I have made it this far without getting COVID[-19] and I would like to continue ensuring that I don’t get that. I also don’t want to risk getting anyone else sick.”
Jordan Bessette, a fourth-year mechanical engineering technology student, also expressed concern for the lifted mandate.
“All of my professors have lifted it. I understand the want for normalcy. It’s all anyone has ever wanted for the past two years,” Bessette said. “However, I am still incredibly wary because the statistic used to determine the change was that only 1% of students tested positive before leaving for break. That data only reflects tests that have been taken, and not all of the students on campus have tested, so we can’t definitively know what the rates actually are.”
Other students have had mixed emotions on the issue. Kaitlyn Sutton, a fourth-year nursing student, spoke about her experiences with the new mask policy.
“I don’t really know how I feel about the no masks in public areas. It still feels weird, but it was kind of nice seeing everyone’s face again that I’ve been studying with since freshman year,” Sutton said about the updated policy.
She also spoke about the fact that there are still a comfortable level of restrictions.
“I only have one teacher this year that lifted the mandate. I felt pretty safe because I know that everyone is vaccinated because they have to be to work at the hospital,” Sutton said. “I am still required to wear a mask at the hospital.”
While the masking policy has been lifted across the state in accordance with the CDC’s guidelines, there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases in several counties within Maine. According to data collected by the Maine Division of Disease Surveillance, in Penobscot county alone there were 282 positive cases in the last 14 days. This data makes up for two of the 11 outbreaks which have occurred in the state over the past two weeks. In the past 28 days, Penobscot county has seen 502 total cases of COVID-19 reported, meaning that well over half of these recent cases have occurred within the past 14 days.
UMaine is closely monitoring the situation in the state, and will adjust their mask policies as they see fit depending upon how cases of COVID-19 continue to trend. Students still maintain the right to wear a mask if they see fit to do so.