Staff Editorial: DC’s lifted mask mandate turns attention to AU’s response
The University should take this opportunity to look to the future
D.C.’s indoor mask mandate was lifted on Nov. 23, although masks will still be a requirement in many settings. The Eagle Editorial Board commends American University for maintaining its mask mandate amid the city-wide change. The decision also raises questions about the future of coronavirus protocols on campus.
AU’s COVID-19 positive test results have been consistently low for the past several weeks until the week of Nov. 15 saw a sharp increase in testing and 15 new coronavirus cases. With the Thanksgiving break behind us and winter break approaching, continuing the mask requirement seems to be a sound decision on the part of the University. Increased travel and interactions with communities across the country increases risk and the University should continue to mitigate that by keeping the mask requirement in place.
The risks of scaled back COVID-19 protocols outweigh any inconvenience people might feel by wearing masks on campus. Members of the AU community have frequent and close contact with each other, from classes to campus dining to dorms. It makes sense that the University would choose to keep safety measures in place in settings where people eat, sleep and study next to each other.
This recent communication on AU’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, which is currently in opposition to city standards, makes the future of pandemic era plans uncertain. Enforcement of or changes to parts of the University’s fall plan remain unclear for the upcoming semester. Will administration comply with D.C. guidance? If it deviates, as it has done on the indoor mask mandate, how will it decide? The University should provide some threshold for its safety standards if it will continue to enforce guidelines that differ from the district's.
The board finds D.C.’s decision to lift the indoor mask mandate a generally questionable one. While businesses will be able to choose whether they want to continue requiring masks, there are several reasons the city might be better protected by a general mandate. Winter travel for the holiday season might result in a surge in cases around the country. AU administrators recognized this by releasing holiday travel guidance and recommendations.
Immunocompromised members of the AU community and professors and staff with children ineligible for vaccination are two groups that are constantly in contact with others at great personal risk. The University owes it to them to continue to enforce a mask requirement, as it has said it intends to do, and to release a comprehensive plan to keep the entire community safe as we transition into yet another semester in a pandemic.