Photo credits: Ali Kochik
As students and faculty flock to campus to begin in-person classes following a two-week remote period at the beginning of the Spring 2022 semester, they are being asked to adhere to a new and updated mask mandate that has been set into place by the university.
A result of the spike in cases across the country via the newest Omicron variant, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released information regarding the safety and effectiveness of the different kinds of masks that are available to the public. In doing so, they stated that they no longer recommend the use of cloth masks alone, as it was found that the reusable fabric masks that so many people use may no longer be enough to combat newer variants.
The CDC stated that the mask they recommend for ultimate protection and safety is the N95 or KN95 masks. This is due to the layering of five filters, including a mechanical filter, which can block up to 95% of germ particles that could be moving through the air.
With this information becoming more widely known, N95 and KN95 masks have become a bit harder to find, particularly for people on a budget who cannot afford the increase in prices that has followed the demand. The CDC has said that standard surgical masks, such as the blue ones that could be found in every WCU building last semester, are the next best thing when it comes to preventing the spread of the virus.
At the beginning of the spring semester, the university released an update to the prior mask mandate, informing students and staff that cloth masks alone would no longer be an appropriate form of masking on campus. Instead, anyone on campus can choose any one of three approved options, which include wearing a surgical mask, wearing a cloth mask with a surgical mask underneath or wearing a N95, KN95, or an equivalent.
With regards to who is being expected to follow this updated safety protocol, the official West Chester statement regarding mask usage says, “All faculty, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth when indoors. All members of the University community may remove the mask to eat when seated while in appropriate dining locations. It is recommended that faculty, staff and students always carry two (2) masks to account for the possibility that a mask might be lost or spoiled. Masks will be provided at various locations throughout campus to ensure the ability for compliance with this requirement. Face masks may be worn when outdoors, but it is not an obligation of this policy notice.”
This policy is meant to keep case rates among students and faculty at a minimum. Regardless of vaccination status, everyone on campus is being asked to comply with these requests in order to reduce the spread, especially in the face of new variants and strains with a higher transmission rate.
In order to make this change easier on students and alleviate any stress that might be caused by finding the best masks, the West Chester website also mentions that, “to help, dispensers with surgical masks will continue to be found in each WCU building. These dispensers have been improved to make mask retrieval easier and increased quantities of masks will be given to our building managers on a regular basis. We will also make a limited number of KN95 masks (or their equivalents) available in our buildings. These masks can be found in classrooms, academic department suites, and in each College’s or School’s dean’s office.”
Other sources for acquiring masks:
Ali Kochik is a fourth-year English major with minors in Journalism and Women’s & Gender Studies. AK908461@wcupa.edu