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College announces relaxation of outdoor mask guidelines

In a May 14 email, Dean Carolyn Livingston announced that individuals and small groups will no longer be required to wear masks outside. A subsequent email defined a “small group” as 30 or fewer people.

The new protocol was met with surprise from the student body, alongside a number of emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety. 

For Alex Gallin ’23, the change of rules felt sudden but not unwelcome. 

“I was surprised that it went from ‘you can’t have any gatherings’ to ‘you can have 30-person gatherings’ because they’ve been very slow to relax rules in other ways,” he said. “But I think it’s a good change,” said Gallin. 

Doug Thompson ’24 echoed these sentiments: “I was happy about the changes. I’ve been waiting for it to happen for a while, seeing the progress and the vaccination rates.” 

“As a freshman, it’s a huge relief,” he added.

For freshmen like Thompson, this is the first time they are allowed to socialize with their peers in person and unmasked. 

With no new COVID cases on campus in the past month, some students are starting to feel safe without masks, a substantial departure from the widespread concern during  Fall and Winter Terms. “I feel safe on campus. I trust the vaccine. I don’t really worry about COVID when I’m going outside anymore,” explained Thompson.

Gallin similarly supports the decision from a safety perspective: “I think it’s a fine decision safety-wise. Most of the science says that being unmasked outdoors is relatively safe, especially for vaccinated people. The more important restrictions about wearing masks inside haven’t been relaxed, so I feel like it’s a pretty common-sense decision.”

While the change marks a fresh start and symbol of hope for many students, not everyone on campus shares in the excitement. For immuno-compromised students and those with other high-risk conditions, the prospect of unmasked outdoor gatherings is unthinkable. 

Maya Rogers ’22 shared in the surprise at the announcement, but not the enthusiasm. 

“I understand the reasoning behind it for sure, but I was very surprised, both at the change on a country-wide level and at Carleton,” she said. “I don’t feel as safe on campus as I did last term, for example. It’s a very big risk for me, and I understand that it’s not as risky for other people, but I liked it more when the guidelines were more on the cautious side.”

The update in policy comes with drawbacks, even for students who view the change positively. “The thing that bothers me the most is that they’ve been pretty inconsistent with different types of groups. Social gatherings can be pretty big now, but club sports still have really strict rules, which feels like a big disconnect,” said Gallin, who is a member of the club rugby team. For a school that so highly values its club sports, it seems unintuitive to continue to not allow teams to practice to the same extent as varsity sports.

For Gallin, the climate on campus feels lighter since the college’s policy changed: “The campus atmosphere is a little more relaxed. There was a lot of tension beforehand but now it’s like, you can have a normal-sized gathering and not worry.” 

This newfound relaxation is not universal, however. For Rogers, the changes brought a fresh wave of anxiety. “I feel weird about people around me not being as cautious as me. It feels like it gives people a reason to be less careful. It just means I have to be even more aware and more careful.” 

“But I do feel that the changes are pretty reasonable based on what the CDC and state of Minnesota have been doing,” she adds, reflecting upon the nationwide lifting of restrictions and mask mandates.

While no one knows what the pandemic will look like in the coming months and in the fall, students and officials from the school alike have anticipated that by September, the college will be able to operate with no mask requirements at all. Thompson sums up the hopes of Carls for the future: “Hopefully we’ll be able to come back in a few months and not have masks inside either!”

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