University to lift indoor mask mandates

Beginning March 5, WFU will rescind campus-wide mask mandates in two phases


Katie Fox

a Feb. 24 email, Wake Forest University will begin revising mask mandates on March 5 and no longer require masks in classrooms starting March 19.

Christa Dutton and Emily Toro

 Starting March 5, Wake Forest will begin to lift its campus mask requirements in phases, it announced in a Feb. 24 email. 

This decision comes one week after the city of Winston-Salem announced that it will lift its city-wide mask mandate by the end of the month and just a week after Governor Roy Cooper encouraged schools and local governments to end their mask mandates. 

Per advice from infectious disease expert Dr. Christopher Ohl, the university will implement the new mask protocols in a two-step approach. On Saturday, March 5, the first day of spring break on the Reynolda campus, masks will be optional in all indoor campus spaces, excluding classrooms, healthcare facilities and university transportation. On Saturday, March 19, masks will no longer be required in classrooms but will continue to be required in healthcare facilities and transportation. 

The phased approach allows us to be in alignment with the city’s mask policy but also gives us a bit more time to transition to relaxing the mask policy in the classroom and other spaces on campus that might require nuanced approaches.

— Vice President for Campus Life Shea Kidd-Brown

“Each week, a group of campus leaders meets to discuss new questions and decisions that relate to the pandemic,” Vice President for Campus Life Dr. Shea Kidd-Brown said. “This is a collaborative group that represents various functions on campus. In reviewing the campus COVID-19 dashboard daily, observing a steady decline in cases, overlaying that with the city’s updated policies and in accordance with the advice and guidance of Dr. Ohl and endocrinologist Dr. Catherine Price, we felt ready to make changes appropriate for this stage of the pandemic.” 

Before these two dates, on Tuesday, March 1 at 4 p.m., a virtual forum was held for faculty and staff to provide thorough details on the new policy and the public health rationale behind this decision. 

Since masking has been required in classrooms and indoor spaces since August 2020, university administrators are expecting the implementation of the new policy to be a major time of transition. Those who have been involved with the university’s response to the pandemic are hopeful that the phased approach will allow the university to align itself with the city’s new policies while also continuing to exercise caution. 

 “As we were making the decision about relaxing the mask mandate, we imagined there would be a number of questions, particularly as it relates to the classroom and other spaces that typically require close proximity,” Kidd-Brown said. “The phased approach allows us to be in alignment with the city’s mask policy but also gives us a bit more time to transition to relaxing the mask policy in the classroom and other spaces on campus that might require nuanced approaches.”

University will lift its mask mandates in two phases, starting with its indoor spaces mask mandate. (Katie Fox)

The lifting of mask mandates has been long-awaited by students and faculty alike. 

“I think it will boost morale significantly,” Kidd Brown said. “We have all craved the ability to see smiles on faces and connect in closer proximity, and the updated requirements will allow for more of that. On a very personal note, as a new vice president, I will look forward to seeing full faces as I continue to get to know faculty, staff and students.” 

She continued: “Just as spring approaches, we will return to new and meaningful ways to connect with our students, and while some may be apprehensive, I think there is a lot of excitement and relief regarding this update.” 

Sophomore Hasan Pyarali is also optimistic about the university’s new approach. 

“It is a great development that shows the university has finally started following the science,” Pyarali said. “We have a 96% rate for vaccines and boosters, and it’s about time we begin to approach this as an endemic rather than a pandemic.”

Although the mandate is being lifted, faculty and staff are permitted to require masks in their classrooms, meeting spaces and offices throughout the semester. The university also encourages students to continue to carry a mask with them during this time of transition and to wear one if they need or prefer to. Additionally, individuals with underlying health conditions have the option to request reasonable accommodations during this time. 

The university will continue to communicate with public health officials regarding their decision. 

“For the majority of students and staff I know, this is a positive step forward in coming out of this dark period in our lifetimes,” Pyarali said.