Relaxed mask mandate creates wave of optimism

Carina Lopez, Campus News Editor

The latest Chancellor Order, effective until Dec. 31, relaxed masking guidelines in residence halls, resulting in mostly positive feedback from administrators. 

The order went into effect on Nov. 1 with similar stipulations as the former guidelines. However, there was an addition to the exceptions – students no longer have to wear their masks on their own residence floor. 

“It’s sort of a balancing act. We’re all tired of wearing masks, we’re tired of all these restrictions. Our campus is doing really well in terms of the incidents of covid, but we were there before and we thought ‘this is great, we can sort of go away from this,’ and then it came rolling back,” said Interim Chancellor Jim Henderson. “I’m just trying to find that balance to try and keep everyone healthy because the last thing I want is us having to move away from in-person classes.” 

The response to the order comes with mixed feelings. Some say they do not feel as safe as they did before and others strongly disagree with masking all together, Henderson said. 

“The impact in the residence halls seems to be very positive. I have heard many anecdotal comments that are in support and very happy in the change of the new policy,” said Director of Residence Life Terry Tumbarello. 

During the week of Nov. 14, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) looked forward to the spring semester in terms of what the guidelines will look like.

“This is all hypothetical, no decisions are made. It’s the question of to what extent do we maintain masking, to what extent do we maintain testing, how do we encourage people to get vaccinated,” said Henderson. 

Although it can be difficult to predict what can happen in the near future, there is optimism that it will get better.

“I have to be very careful about looking ahead nine months, even three months. With EOC, we try to look ahead, but we are also prepared to say we have might to change on a dime,” said Health Director of Ambrose Health Center Julie Martindale. “I sure hope there’s a point in the spring semester that we are saying we don’t need masks.”

The EOC will meet again in December and decide where to go based on issues present to that date. 

Currently, the verified vaccination rate stands at 77% for students and 91% for employees. As the campus continues to encourage vaccines, it does make many individuals question how high that percentage has to reach in order to lift the mask mandate. 

“It is more than the vaccination rate; however, I do think that plays a big piece in it. It’s also looking at what is the quarantine and isolation presence on campus, what is the acuteness of who is being infected on campus and in the community,” said Martindale.

The breakthrough rate, meaning vaccinated people that get infected, is also something to consider before making a decision. The breakthrough rate on campus and in the community is currently at about 35%.

Those that have not gotten vaccinated continue to get tested weekly. To get vaccinated or not is the option of the individual. Since there is no federal contract with the school, such as the one UW-Madison has, no vaccine mandates are expected to happen at UW-W. 

“I think we will probably see small increases in vaccinations because you see these reports of these people who wouldn’t get vaccinated until someone in their family or someone close got sick. I think that will be the case,” said Henderson. “There won’t be another concerted push in the same way as the system-wide 70 for 70.” 

For more information visit Warhawks Are Back.