Students, staff react to mask mandate end, raise concerns

photo of a classroom
Gavin Sagastume/Staff
Professors are reacting to the end of the mask mandate in a variety of ways, from separating classrooms into masked and unmasked sections to providing N95s to GSIs.

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Campus lifted the indoor mask mandate Monday, leaving students and faculty with mixed reactions and plans moving forward.

To address some community concerns, the ASUC Disabled Students Commission is working to protect high-risk and relationally high-risk folks through a variety of efforts, including the fall 2021 Disabled Students Program Crisis Quick Guide and the push to require a UC-wide training for disability education for faculty and staff.

“Government officials and people, in general, seem more motivated by being exhausted of the pandemic rather than health,” alleged campus sophomore Lauren Van Dyke.

Van Dyke anticipates there will be a surge in cases, not just of COVID-19, but also of the cold and the flu.

Van Dyke and campus freshman Perla Hernandez both noted they had no qualms about outdoor unmasking. However, they drew the line with indoor unmasking where they would be in an enclosed space, unaware if their classmates were “vaccinated,” “cautious” or “immunocompromised.”

Rosa Enriquez, a neurodivergent, immunocompromised graduate student at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare said lifting the mask mandate is especially “frightening” and alleged it is one of many ableist COVID-19 policies.

“(It’s) extremely concerning that we have students faculty and staff who are being placed in a situation where they are even more uncomfortable,” Enriquez said.

According to Enriquez, there are many graduate students who are either caretakers or who live in intergenerational households. She added that student-parents with very young children remain in a particularly difficult situation, with some having to choose between pursuing their education and looking out for their child’s health.

In addition to affecting immunocompromised students and faculty, lifting the mandate has also forced professors to find creative ways to ensure health and safety despite their own levels of comfort.

Campus computer science professor Nicholas Weaver said he is generally comfortable with lifting the mask mandate, as the campus population is largely vaccinated and the omicron variant is rapidly dissipating. He added that while he sometimes wears N95 masks to protect himself from a range of respiratory viruses, he will not wear one while lecturing in an attempt to improve the quality of his audio.

For students, however, Weaver is maintaining “masks encouraged” sections and is still making N95 masks available to GSIs.

On the other hand, Hernandez said her GSI was uncomfortable with the mandate ending and opened Zoom sections for students who want to unmask. Meanwhile, Hernandez’s sociology professor divided the room into unmasked and masked sections, and her English professor let students decide whether or not to wear a mask via vote.

“Because it’s a decision of the state, it’s very unlikely that the policy would ever change,” Enriquez said. “It would really take folks to demonstrate … and (look) at how to organize.”

Contact Denise Cruz at [email protected].