COVID-19 Saga Continues: Mask Mandate Lifted

The removal of the mask mandate just before spring break shows the callous disregard by the administration to how the pandemic continues to affect the marginalized.

The revoking of the mask mandate is a careless, reckless decision by the administration. UMass Amherst continues to prove they don’t care about the lives of marginalized groups, the pandemic being the latest example. With only 15.5 hours notice, students, faculty, and staff had to scramble to adjust to the new reality. Telling the campus community at 3:40 on a Tuesday with the intention of lifting the mandate at 7 AM the next morning reveals how virtually no one was consulted on this, and shows the apathy within the administration. Why weren’t we given more time? Why the rush? It leaves the immunocompromised in a precarious position, as well as those around them. I myself am immunocompromised, as I have disabilities that would make things very dangerous for me if I were to catch COVID-19. I have people on both sides of my family that are, friends that are. People I don’t know and will never meet are immunocompromised, and this decision will affect them as well. The complete disregard for human life mixed with the desire to “move on” has overruled common sense. The pandemic is not over, people forget how easily new variants popped up when guards dropped and rules were relaxed the first time. 


It is irresponsible and dangerous to assume that the pandemic is over, and choosing to do so will put more lives at risk. The disproportionate impact of the deaths and long-COVID on the Black and PoC communities isn’t lost on me, and this decision only exacerbates that. In the email in part, it says “Data indicates that severe illness is extremely rare within our highly vaccinated and boosted community.” What about the immunocompromised? Those with disabilities? PoC? Other minority groups? What happens to them when they catch the virus? Do they no matter? Are there lives not worth anything? Another part of the email reads “Individuals may seek reasonable accommodations for their own documented health conditions by contacting Disability Services (for students) and Accessible Workplace Office (for staff & faculty).” This statement is highly hypocritical, since Disability Services is very understaffed, overworked, and underpaid. Students have to wait months to be seen, and when they are, some professors don’t take the accommodations seriously. The university should fully fund Disability Services, hire more case managers, and ensure that accommodations are being met. I can’t speak for the Accessible Workplace Office, but I would be surprised if they didn’t have issues as well. 


Another portion of the email reads in part, “Please note that individuals or departments cannot create mask requirements separate from or more restrictive than university requirements. We also recognize that COVID-19 presents a fluid public health situation, and we may need to require face coverings in the future should guidance change.” This takes agency away from the departments, along with professors and staff members that are at risk. It says “we don’t care if you get sick or not, you’re expected to teach. We also don’t care if your friends and loved ones get sick”. For those that are staff, the people that help make the university run, it says that the long hours they work are worthless and that they’re expendable, as well as those they care about. 


The lack of compassion and respect for them shows in this decision, and it will only make things worse. I can understand the desire to be done with COVID, but that doesn’t mean COVID is done with us, especially for the most vulnerable in society. It also seems counterintuitive to me to suggest that people keep testing if most don’t do so anyway. The numbers that come in the weekly emails don’t reflect the entire campus, only a portion of it. What about those that have never been tested? Where’s that data? Are they going to get tested? If not, then what happens? These questions and more go through my head a lot, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. The pandemic isn’t over, and we need to remember that. Not too long ago, we were being told to upgrade to better masks, along with being notified an employee had died. Let us not forget that now is the time to come together and be strong for one another, not divided. As much as I hate wearing a mask, I do so because I feel it necessary. If only the university felt the same way.

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