The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Mask mandate lifted with few exceptions

3 min read

UMW is following other universities in Virginia changing its mask mandate to optional except in classroom settings. | Xingyue HUANG / Unsplash


Staff Writer

As of March 11, the University of Mary Washington no longer requires students or visitors to wear a mask indoors, excluding healthcare locations, classrooms, labs and mass transit. 

On March 10, students received an email from Anna Billingsley, signed by University President Troy Paino, confirming that, with exceptions, masking indoors will be encouraged rather than required. This decision was made due to declining COVID-19 cases at UMW, as well as the CDC listing local transmission in Fredericksburg and surrounding areas as low. New CDC guidance released on Feb. 25, which explained that “the risk of medically significant disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 is greatly reduced for most people”, also played a role in lessening COVID precautions, according to a March 2 email signed by COVID-19 Director and Chief of Staff Jeff McClurken. 

While some throughout the UMW community are hesitant to stop wearing their masks, others are comfortable with the change. 

“Given the dramatic decline in COVID numbers, I am comfortable taking off my mask on campus, as long as we are not in close quarters,” said environmental science professor John Tippett. “But for now, I will probably keep it on out of consideration for others who may not be comfortable, or who are immune compromised.”

Riley Smith, a sophomore business administration major, agrees with the university’s updated mask policy.

“UMW did not update the mask wearing too early; they waited a significant amount of time and chose a safe time,” said Smith.

Smith works for the university as a peer academic consultant and interacts with many other students and staff on a daily basis. She said she feels comfortable not wearing a mask around others while being indoors.

Other students feel uneasy about removing masks in an indoor setting.

Carson Berrier, a senior history major in the secondary education program, feels apprehensive about the recent changes. She is a member of the Washington Guides and gives weekly campus tours. 

“I am vaccinated and boosted so I personally feel comfortable but am apprehensive about the change,” said Berrier. “I interact with large groups of people that are from all over the United States and I have no way of knowing if they are choosing to protect themselves and others.”

The majority of UMW students, faculty and staff are vaccinated and boosted against the virus, with science suggesting the risk for COVID infections to be lower among vaccinated individuals. 

Other public universities are moving away from indoor mask mandates as well. 

On Feb. 22, the University of Virginia announced that it would end the indoor mask requirement in most indoor settings, excluding classrooms, healthcare facilities and mass transit. Virginia Tech followed suit and announced that masks will no longer be required in public indoor spaces with some exceptions. 

According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, Fredericksburg has a daily average of five cases as of March 15. At UMW, there are four active cases as of March 15 following spring break. 

“Overall, I definitely think the changes were a good decision,” said Smith. “UMW supports those who still feel more comfortable wearing masks, but it is nice to have the option not to wear them since our university’s COVID cases have remained low.”

The March 10 email also stated that masking would no longer be required at large indoor events, and there will no longer be restrictions on vaccine or testing status at indoor public events. 

UMW is still offering KN95 masks upon request for no cost at the University Center’s information desk. There also will continue to be weekly testing at Bushnell Hall for those who want to get tested if they believe they were exposed to the virus. Home test kits are also available for pickup at Bushnell Hall.  

“We should all continue to treat each other with kindness and respect, particularly as people make individual decisions about if or when to wear a mask,” said Paino in the email. “We also encourage members of our campus community to put on a mask if another individual requests they do so, particularly in smaller, indoor settings.”