Katrina Lee, News Editor
Masks became optional in most common spaces at VCU’s Monroe Park and MCV campuses on Monday, according to the One VCU website.
Locations where masking is no longer required include the James Branch Cabell Library, the University Student Commons, residence halls and more public places, according to VCU PR spokesperson Tom Gresham.
“Effective Monday, March 21, masking is optional in most spaces on VCU campuses, including residence halls. Masks will continue to be required in classrooms, clinical settings, health system facilities and when using public transit,” Gresham stated.
Prior to the rescission, VCU mandated indoor masking in August 2021, which was a reinstatement after a spike in COVID-19 cases. Other universities in Virginia have also since dropped mandatory masking in common spaces, including James Madison University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and others.
The decision to lift the mandate was based on “positive trends and improvement in COVID-19 conditions,” according to the One VCU website.
COVID-19 cases in Virginia have been declining since the omicron variant surge that occured in December and continued to decline from 2,846 cases on Feb. 18 to 656 on March 22, according to the Virginia Department of Health website.
The Centers for Disease Control released new guidance on wearing masks last month based on location, ranking areas from low to high transmission. The CDC stated that masking is based on personal preference in low status areas. The City of Richmond recently shifted from a medium status to a low status, according to the CDC.
Pre-med junior Resshma Rajendran is a resident assistant at Gladding Residence Center, a freshman residence hall. She said she is not sure if it was a good idea to lift the mask mandate in residence halls, due to the guest policy also being reinstated.
“I am a little iffy because like you can’t really tell where people are going, but at the same time I understand that COVID-19 cases are going down so it is bound to be lifted at some point,” Rajendran said.
Residential Life and Housing plans to implement a guest policy for non-residential and non-affiliated guests at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 8, allowing students to have up to three guests who don’t live in the residence. Previously, the university’s COVID-19 policy did not allow for non-residential and non-VCU affiliated guests to be in the residence halls, according to VCU Residential life and Housing.
Rajendran said she agrees with masking still being required in classrooms, due to some of her classes containing hundreds of students.
“I think it’s a good idea because you can’t socially distance yourself from other students,” Rajendran said.
Political science student Anthony Belotti said he agrees with the lifting of the mandate in some circumstances like not wearing a mask while being in the library when no one is around.
“I definitely am a more COVID-cautious person, but I also think that making policy measures that make sense for where we are at is good, especially because of the toll on mental health that the pandemic has taken,” Belotti said.
Belotti said he believes certain stigmas around COVID-19 added to the decline in mental health that took place during the pandemic.
“I personally believe that we would have seen a lot less pandemic depression if folks weren’t shamed for meeting in an outside area,” Belotti said.
Richmond’s positivity rate is currently at 7%, according to the Henrico County Website.
Belotti, however, said he doesn’t believe Richmond’s percentage of positivity rate is accurate and doesn’t agree with other changes VCU has made to policies related to COVID-19.
VCU ended its policy requiring faculty and students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster on Jan. 31, according to the ONE VCU Together Website. ONE VCU Together also stated that 97% of faculty and staff and more than 95% of students were vaccinated when the decision to rescind the vaccine mandate was made.
“I don’t think that the vaccine mandate should have ever been reversed,” Belotti said.
Contributing Writer Kaitlyn McMahon contributed to this report.